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Sierra Leone is a country with little tourism, as civil wars have made it inaccessible for many years, but it could well become a favourite destination for lovers of flora and fauna. Nature expresses itself without restraint. While the terrain alternates between plateaus and mountains, the vegetation varies from arid lands to tropical forests. In various parts of the country, safari enthusiasts will be delighted to discover reserves populated with wild animals. The entire western part of the country is made up of coastal plains that reach the sea. The Freetown peninsula is an exception, as it is made up of mountains. Mount Bintumani, located in the northeast in the Loma Mountain Range, is the highest peak in West Africa. It reaches a height of 1945 metres. The rainforests in the region are still intact.

Sierra Leone, a dream destination!

Sierra Leone is a West African country bordering Guinea to the north and northeast, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. It is a former British colony, which experienced a long period of civil war from March 1991 to 18 January 2002. This brought the country to its knees for 11 years.

Today, Sierra Leone is a peaceful country where one can enjoy the most beautiful beaches in the world. The country relies on tourism for its development and its reconstruction is underway.

The main cities of the country are Port Loko, Lunsar, Makeni, Bo, Kenema, Koidu and Koindu.

Sierra Leone has some of the most beautiful beaches on the West African coast. The beaches are mainly concentrated in the Freetown area. Lumley Beach and River No. 2 are the best known. For those who want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the area, there are huts to rent and a chance to experience the daily life of the locals.

John Obey

One of the most stunning of the bunch and almost too pretty to share is sleepy little John Obey. The beach became a minor media sensation in the late noughties, scoring features on a host of major media outlets thanks to an ambitious ecotourism scheme known as Tribewanted.

Lumley Beach

Lumley Beach stretches for about 4 km, from the coastal neighborhood of Aberdeen all the way south past the Freetown Golf Course. There’s a paved promenade running all along the beach, popular with runners – it’s actually one of the few places in town where you can enjoy a run with no hills or traffic!

The beach is wide and sandy, clean for the most part – it’s popular on Sunday with locals playing volleyball and hanging out on the beach. You’ll also find several bars and restaurants, getting busy by sunset onwards, and a little night market. 

Turtle Islands

The stuff castaway movies are made of: eight tiny islands form the Turtle Islands, an undeveloped archipelago thrown across the Atlantic just off the western shore of Sherbro Island. Each one is a slice of pure, bright sand sat amid breath-taking azure, framed by sighing palms silhouetted against a hazy blue sky.

 Bureh Beach

Surf’s up at Bureh beach. Among the few spots along the Peninsula where you can enjoy a good burst of waves, this is a well-established favourite. It’s still fairly empty bar Sundays, which are popular with picnicking Lebanese families.

Mountain-backed, the sea retreats a long way at low tide, exposing a broad stretch of deep ochre sand fringed by palm trees. Many have been beguiled by the surfing, and a couple of local boys know the breaks well. While good waves aren’t guaranteed, the occasional triumph of hope over expectation makes it a magical spot.

Levuma Beach

Probably the busiest beach in Freetown, Levuma is a nice, long sandy beach, clean for the most part. The large pavement is a nice place to run along; and located on the beach you will find many hotels and some excellent restaurants. There’s a volleyball field and even a market. It’s a major nightlife hotspot at the weekend – expect blasting music, lots of traffic and noise. It’s an overall fun place to be!

Discover the parks and reserves of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is home to many parks and reserves. Sierra Leone is also a birdwatcher’s dream destination with over 120 species of birds. These include nesting weavers, vultures, eagles and hornbills with doubled beaks. In the north, the Outamba and Kilimi reserves are made up of hills, green plains and forests. Here you will see many animals, including monkeys, hippos, elephants and buffalo. The Loma Moutains Forest Reserve is a dense forest with huge trees around Mount Bintunami. Here you can see chimpanzees and other animals. April, May, October and November are the best months for the expedition. In the southeast, Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the smallest reserves in the country. Located on an island in the Moa River, it is home to crocodiles, hippos and monkeys. It is also home to over 120 species of birds.

In the heart of Morocco, Marrakech is THE flagship destination of the Maghreb! With ideal weather all year round, and only a 3-hour flight from Paris, Marrakech is an intoxicating, colourful and warm city that is hard not to fall in love with.

Marrakech has a lot of riads, so much so that choosing one can be difficult. To help you, we have selected some riads in Marrakech according to the following criteria: to be located in the heart of the Medina, to have a swimming pool, to offer a quality service, and to have a decoration which makes you dream.

Staying in a Moroccan Riad

There are many riads in Morocco, especially in Marrakech, which is known as the ‘red city’ because of its distinctive architecture, with red clay walls and ramparts overlooking the medina, the historic quarter in the heart of the city.

The word “riad” means “garden”, but it is also used to designate a traditional house built around a patio or an interior garden. These courtyards, often with a fountain, keep the riad cool in a natural way. Rooftop terraces and a swimming pool often complete the picture, and the layout of these traditional houses provides privacy from the noise of the city.

A stay in one of these typical Moroccan riads offers an authentic experience for your stay, all year round. This traditional accommodation allows you to be greeted by friendly hosts, to have peace and privacy when you want it, and at the same time to be just a few minutes away from the incredible bustle of the city centre.

The best riads are located just a little away from the hustle and bustle of Jemaa el-Fna Square, but are within easy walking distance of all the major tourist attractions, making them a perfect retreat during your stay.

The most beautiful riads in Marrakech

Most riads are located in the heart of the medina, the steep streets of the old town. Most of these traditional urban residences have a terrace or rooftop with a breathtaking view of the city and the magnificent sunsets. They also have a central patio or indoor garden, usually with a small pool to cool off in after a long day.

Sleeping in a riad is the certainty of being in the centre of the city, close to the activities of the souk and the typical restaurants. You’ll fall in love with the lush green gardens and iconic decorations, with their warm colours, patterns and textures.

Riad Yasmine

Riad Yasmine is without a doubt the most famous riad in Marrakech. With its typical Moroccan decoration (as well as its furniture), it is one of the most popular with tourists from all over the world and is one of my favourite riads in Marrakech.

The 485m² establishment is more of a small private hotel than a family riad as it can hold up to 16 guests at any one time. The riad has many rooms on the ground and first floors and some sublime suites. Each suite has its own decoration or colour scheme.

Riad Be in Marrakech

Riad Be in Marrakech actually consists of two riads which are traditional Moroccan private houses connected on the roof terrace. Each riad has its own style. The Oasis is overgrown with plants, patterns and colours, while the Riad Essence is composed mainly of traditional handcrafted woodwork such as doors, with Moroccan tiles in multiple colours. The charm of this riad is undeniable and the Moroccan cuisine offered is exceptional.

Riad Dar Anika in Marrakech

The Dar Anika riad in Marrakech is a luxurious and very intimate riad located at the entrance of the old souk. This riad has 12 rooms decorated with care. Ideal for relaxation, this riad offers a swimming pool and a hammam. You can also enjoy the magnificent roof terrace where you can admire the whole of Marrakech.

The rooms and suites are spacious and carefully decorated. The outdoor spaces are absolutely extraordinary and will charm you for sure.

Riad Berbere

This superb 17th century riad in Kâat Benahid has been restored by the renowned Belgian architect Quentin Wilbeaux. Sobriety and authenticity are the watchwords of this riad: the large, lush Islamic garden has been faithfully preserved, while five minimalist rooms highlight the period craftsmanship and design of the house. This understated simplicity and respect for the house’s architecture is carried throughout, making it a truly tranquil retreat in a dense and atmospheric part of the medina. A dreamy Moroccan breakfast of fruit, pancakes, mountain honey and homemade jam is served on the rooftop terrace or on the room balconies.

Riad Marrakech : Ksar Kasbah & Spa

In the historical district of the Kasbah, a few minutes away from all the cultural monuments, the Ksar Kasbah & Spa appears as one of the riads not to be missed in Marrakech. This traditionally designed riad consists of 12 rooms and a large private flat set in 4 hectares of lush gardens. All rooms include a large desk, a private bathroom and access to the patio with a beautiful small pool. This guest house in Marrakech provides guests with cars and bicycles, ideal for exploring the red city in complete peace of mind.

Riad Azzar

This traditional riad, located a few minutes from Djemaa el-Fna Square, is rooted in its North African heritage. It has just six rooms, decorated with African artwork and a small pool in the patio, surrounded by bougainvillea and bamboo. On either side of the pool are two lounges, one with a fireplace and large French windows, the other with red velvet tables and chairs. The owners of Riad Azzar, Maryk and Cees, a Dutch couple who have lived in Marrakech for many years, will be happy to organise excursions and outings for you to enjoy your stay in Marrakech.

La villa des Orangers

It’s hard to resist the discreet charm of the tree-lined Riads in the Medina. If there is an exclusive and unmissable address, it is this one. The Villa des Orangers is a vast Riad with three inner courtyards, two heated swimming pools and even a small garden. So many refined places condensed and intertwined one into the other and which allow you to feel invited for a moment in an exceptional place. Here, styles, cultures and periods are mixed, club armchairs rub shoulders with “Berber carpets” also known as African or Mauritanian mats.

Riad Dar One

Riad Dar One is located in the Jewish quarter of Marrakech. Although it has the charm of the old riads, it is a very different riad from the others. There are many bright colours (turquoise, aubergine, fuchsia…) and the materials used (marble, leather, wrought iron, tadelakt, velvet, silk…) are diverse but this does not tarnish the decor. On the contrary, everything is in perfect harmony. If you are looking for a place to stay that is full of pep but super cosy, you are in the right place, this one is one of the most beautiful riads in Marrakech in my opinion!

The difference between hotel and riad

Marrakech riads are guesthouses generally located in the city’s medina, which is the “old town”. You can find them in other Moroccan cities.

The rooms in a riad are located around the central courtyard, on two or three floors. They have a central patio or interior garden, often decorated with an ornamental fountain. Some even have a small swimming pool. The decoration is usually composed of mosaics and many plants.

Due to the tourist boom in the city, many riads in Marrakech have been rehabilitated and converted into charming hotels, sometimes a little too modern for my taste.

Although many people would argue that crowds are a quintessential part of the New York experience, it’s safe to say that most New Yorkers will avoid the tourist crowd at all costs. There’s a fine difference- regular New Yorker crowds walk in brisk paces with different destinations, a tourist crowd are all flocking to one spot, and likely toward one long line. The latter is the one you want to avoid.

It may sound a bit counter-intuitive having The Full-Time Tourist avoiding tourist crowds, but that definitely does not mean I can’t find creative ways to see parts of touristy New York. Here are some tips on how to avoid the tourist crowd in New York City:

WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: The Statue of Liberty

ALTERNATIVE: Governor’s Island

Hear me out on this one. Unless you want to climb the Statue of Liberty (think squished staircase where people can barely go up and down), you probably just want to see it. Although there are ferries that pass it, such as the ones to Staten or Ellis Island, the ferry to Governor’s Island is inexpensive ($2), not all that busy and you still have a great view of Lady Liberty.

And if you catch the first or second ferry out during the week, the island offers free bikes from 10 am – 12 pm for one hour. So grab a bike and do a little trip around the island. In its centre is a graffiti park and art installations that make a great place to have a picnic.

WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: The Empire State Building

ALTERNATIVE: Top of the Rocks

Not only is Top of the Rocks less expensive that the Empire State building, it’s also less busy and it’s a better view of the New York skyline: the only building you can’t see in the skyline from the Empire State building is the Empire State building. Plus, you can book tickets in advanced and opt for a package deal that includes the NBC tour and the Museum of Modern Art (which typically charges a non-optional $25 fee).

WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: Grand Central Station

ALTERNATIVE: Grand Central Station… at off-peak hours

Obviously admiring the interior of iconic buildings, like Grand Central Station, the Flatiron building, Chrysler building, Empire State building, etc., cannot have an alternative- it’s why they’re so iconic. But that doesn’t mean you are stuck with flocks of iPads and selfie sticks. (Absurd!) Just go at off-peak times… for tourists.

My personal tip for avoiding tourist crowds is to consider whom your typical tourist is- families or a group of some description. And considering the larger the group, the longer it takes for them to assemble, early mornings, mid-afternoons between mealtimes and late evenings are your best shot to avoid the added chaos.

This does not include Times Square, which unless you are completely determined to go, you should avoid. But if you still want to go, try early mornings before 10 am or at night, when it’s all lit up. I went at 11:30 pm after a Broadway show and the crowds weren’t as crazy as they can be.

WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: A show… that is pretty popular.

ALTERNATIVE: Buy tickets in advanced

The most important part of planning poetry readings, Broadway shows, Shakespeare plays, comedy nights or late night talk shows is to buy those tickets early. Especially in New York where some of these are won by lottery (looking at you, late night talk shows and Shakespeare in the [Central] Park). This one may seem a bit obvious, but late-night-last-minute ticket planning means less sleep for the day ahead.

WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

ALTERNATIVE: The Natural History Museum, the Frick Collection

Although I did visit the Met on my NYC trip, it is way to big to see in one day. So unless you plan to visit a couple of times, you may feel a little cheated. (I did not, however I did wish I had more time to visit more exhibits- the Egypt, South East Asia and European wings looked pretty cool.) However, it is pay-what-you-want. (Recommended: $25)

A smaller pay-what-you-want museum just so happens to be right across Central Park, and apparently its planetarium is pretty cool. But the planetarium is the only part of the Natural History Museum that you have to pay full admission for.

The Frick Collection also requires full admission ($20 for adults, $10 for students) BUT is spectacular. It’s an American Versailles. Henry Frick, a wealthy industrialist in the late 19th and early 20th century, had amassed stunning pieces of art and furniture for his renaissance-inspired home. He intended for his mansion to become a museum- and a beautiful one at that!

The train schedule billboard inside Grand Central Station / Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Photo by Deni Verklan. © The Full-Time Tourist, 2016.

Rainy weather is usually code for a lazy day. But when you’ve spent money on flights and accommodations to explore a new city, you have to make the most of your trip despite the gloomy weather. I recently came back from an unexpectedly rainy weekend in New York City where I spent a couple of late nights and mornings trying to find mostly indoor activities. And for the most part, I failed to calculate the number of people thinking about the same rainy-day activities as me.

Apparently, here are some activities you shouldn’t do on a rainy weekend:

  • Go to a pay-what-you-can museum on a Sunday. (Hello hundreds of people lining up outside the building!)
  • Go to the Top of the Rocks to see the New York skyline. (Clouds for miles.)
  • Outdoor activities in general. (Cue frizzy wet hair and shivering.)

Luckily, I’m heading back to NYC within the month, so it made sense for me to get an American mobile phone plan while I was in the U.S.A. and was able to re-plan part of the day when rainy day plans fell through. But paying for data or for an American number isn’t always a viable option for international visitors that might only be in the U.S. for a few days.

To make sure you get the most out of New York City in the rain, I’ve created a three-day itinerary that includes two week-day activities and one weekend day to have an authentically New York experience despite the rainy weather.

Quick note: If you’re in the city for 4-7 days, invest in an unlimited metro pass ($31). The city is bigger than your feet could have ever imagined.

A 3-Day Itinerary for Exploring New York City in the Rain

Day 1: Exploring Manhattan’s iconic buildings

Day 1 is best for weekdays as it includes some popular spots for locals and tourists alike to go to during rainy weather. The day starts at the American Museum of Natural History, which is a small enough museum that you can see most of it in a single day, but not so small that you dilly-dally to let the day run by. From the museum, I recommend going to a gluten-free bakery in the East Village before going to Grand Central Terminal to eat it (in lieu of the famous Magnolia Bakery that doesn’t offer gluten-free treats). From Grand Central, this itinerary will take you to some of New York City’s best known landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building, ending in a comedy show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade East Village. If you choose to follow this itinerary, please book your tickets to UCB either the night before or that morning before you start your day to ensure a spot. It’s also important to arrive at UCB 15 minutes before your show starts, as they will give away spots to people lined up at the box office.

American Museum of Natural History– Central Park West & 79th St., Manhattan

By subway: Take the B or D train to 81 St- Museum of Natural History

Admission: PWYC

Hours: 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Unlike a rainy weekend, going to the American Museum of Natural History during a low-tourism-season weekday isn’t horribly busy. The museum is known for its detailed exhibits, including a large collection of taxidermied animals from around the world that are carefully posed in scenic backdrops. It also includes numerous artifacts from cultures in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe, numerous marine and land animals, and prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones. I only saw the Asian and African wings of the museum, which took close to 2 hours to explore. As most of the exhibits are pay what you can, you can spend as much or as little time as you want in the museum. I’d recommend going for 2-3 hours to really see a good amount of the exhibits. For some specialty exhibits, like the planetarium or butterfly exhibits, prices vary between US$27-$35 per adult.

Lunch

As I mentioned in the launch of The Full-Time Tourist’s recipe section, traveling with food allergies can be tricky. It’s part of the reason why I usually choose to stay in AirBnB when I travel and why I will usually pack a lunch to cut back on trying to find gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian options (which takes time and money). As the rain had stopped briefly when I left the American Museum of Natural History, I ate lunch in the adjacent Central Park.

But if it’s still raining, I would grab lunch from the museum cafeteria (or buy a coffee and eat a pre-packed picnic).

Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery– 338 E 11th St.

By Subway: Take the A/C train. Transfer to the L train at 14th St. Stop: 1 Ave.

Price range: Under $10

Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

This entirely gluten-free bakery is heralded as one of NYC’s best gluten-free bake shops. And it also serves vegan baked goods as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to go this trip, but I will definitely be recommending my favourites via Instagram when I go back to the Big Apple later this month. Grab one of their cheap gluten-free cupcakes and catch the subway to…

Grand Central Terminal– 89 E. 42nd St.

By Subway: Take the 6 train from Astor Place. Stop: 42 St.

Admission: FREE

Hours: 5:30 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.

Whether it’s sunny or rainy outside, Grand Central Terminal is a must-see in New York. When it was first built in 1871, Grand Central Depot- as it was known at the time- provided a loophole for other train companies to get around a city ban on steam engines below 42nd Street- away from New York’s population. Soon, the amount of train traffic quadrupled and Grand Central expanded in 1901 as Grand Central Station. The iconic structure we know today was built in 1913, when it was christened as Grand Central Terminal. While it is known for the ceilings, clock and ceiling smudge in the main concourse (near the crab constellation), there is also a cafeteria level to grab an afternoon tea.

Chrysler Building– 405 Lexington Ave

Admission: FREE

Hours: Monday- Friday: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Closed Saturday & Sunday

To get there: 2-minute walk from Grand Central exit

A short walk from Grand Central Terminal is another iconic landmark in NYC- the Chrysler Building. When it opened in 1930, it was the tallest building in New York, until the Empire State Building took that title less than a year later. Today, the Chrysler Building is known for its Art Deco style, with murals covering every surface of the lobby. Unfortunately, tourists can’t venture further than the lobby, but it’s a sight that truly cannot be missed.

New York Public Library– 5th Ave at 42nd St

Hours: Monday & Thursday- Saturday: 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Tuesday-Wednesday: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday: 1-5 p.m.

To get there: 10-minute walk down 42 st.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am the biggest library/book nerd of all time. So when I happened across one of the most famous libraries known to American films last year, I was seriously geeking out. Although I didn’t have time to see the interior, the scale and detail of the building’s exterior was incredibly memorable and worth stopping for photos, even though I was running late at the time. (Sorry, not sorry!)

A photo posted by Deni Verklan (@thefulltimetourist) on May 22, 2016 at 12:25pm PDT

Empire State Building– 350 5th Ave

Hours: 8 a.m. – 2 a.m.

By Subway: Walk to Times Sq.- 42 St station. Take the N/Q/R to 34 St.

If you weren’t listening to Alicia Keys & Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind on your way over, now would be the time. But, unlike what romantic comedies may tell you, I would stick to the Art Deco lobby and stunning exterior. Although the Empire State Building provides a beautiful view of Manhattan, you can’t see it in the skyline! Plus, there will likely be a line up for the elevators going up to the observation decks. Check out my post about how to avoid crowds in NYC for where to find the best view of the city.

Flatiron Building– 175 5th Ave

Hours: N/A

By Subway: Walk to 34 St. Take the N/Q/R to 23 St.

A quick subway ride away from the Empire State Building is the Flatiron Building. Named after a popular household appliance, the building quickly became a New York landmark when it was built in 1902. The Beaux-Art-style building was particularly known amongst young men when it was first built, as the Flatiron’s unique shape created a wind tunnel that lifted women’s skirts to see their ankles. (Gasp!) Nowadays, the Flatiron Building is home to publishing houses like Penguin Random House and Macmillan’s Flatiron Books. The protruding base of the building is also a rotating art exhibit, so be sure to check that out as well!

Two Boots– 42 Avenue A

Hours: Sunday- Tuesday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Wednesday- Thursday 11:30 a.m. – midnight; Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.

By Subway: Take the F train from 23 St. to 2 Ave.

This small pizza chain first started in New York City in 1987 before expanding to 18 other locations in NYC, Los Angeles, Baltimore and other major cities in the U.S. Although they’re known for their cornmeal crust and picquante sauce, they’re also known to have per-slice vegan and gluten-free pizza meaning there’s no need to buy a whole pizza to satisfy your dietary restrictions!

Upright Citizens Brigade East Village – 153 East 3rd Street

BOOK TICKET IN ADVANCED HERE.

Admission: $5

To Get There: Walk next door.

Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) is one of the best places in the city to see up-and-coming comedians that are still trying to break into the industry. Founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, UCB is a small, intimate space that is a guaranteed good time. When I went, some of my favourites of the night included Aparna Nancherla from Conan and Last Comic Standing and Mike Lawrence from Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer. I didn’t know either of them before going to the show, and I would definitely see them again. Please note that UCB’s recommendation to arrive 15 minutes before the show start is more of a requirement, as they start giving away seats to people who line up at the box office if you haven’t checked-in in time.

Day 2: Feel a little fancy in Manhattan

Usually rainy days make me feel a little sleepy and lazy, but it’s New York. The constant hustle and bustle of this city means that there’s no time to waste! So what better way to combat rainy weather than with getting a little fancy in Manhattan? This itinerary starts at The Frick Collection, continues to SoHo for a little shopping and ends at Comedy Cellar. Again, it’s best to book tickets to the show either the night before or morning of. Please note that this day is the most expensive of the three days, but it’s better to use a rainy day for shopping and museums instead of using one of your sunny days to do the same.

The Frick Collection– 1 East 70th St.

Hours: Tuesday- Saturday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sundays: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Closed on Mondays

Admission: $20 for adults; $10 for students

By Subway: Take the 4/5 to Grand Central- 42 St.; Transfer to the 6 train. Stop: 68 St.- Hunter College

I heard about The Frick Collection through a family friend who had graciously let me stay in her apartment while she was out of town during my first trip to New York. The museum is lesser known on a tourist scale and may turn people away due to it’s non-negotiable admission, but it’s worth every penny. It’s an American Versailles. The museum was originally the mansion of the late industrialist Henry Frick, who collected beautiful art and furniture with the intent of his home becoming a museum after his death. For more photos, visit my post on How to Avoid Crowds in NYC.

Lunch

As mentioned in Day 1, I tend to pack a lunch just to make sure that I don’t get hangry and so that I don’t have to waste time on Yelp trying to track down cheap, nearby gluten-free, vegan restaurants for lunch. As the Frick borders Central Park, I recommend walking into the park through the 69th St. entrance and eating lunch in the canopy pictured above.

SoHo – Between Avenue of the Americas & Crosby St., and Canal St. & W Houston St.

By Subway: Take the 6 from 68 St. to Spring St. Station.

Somehow SoHo always manages to be pretty in the rain. This area is one of the go-to spots for shopping and for getting a feel for a more upscale New York without having to venture further uptown to the Upper East Side. Some of my go-to shops in SoHo are the Uniqlo, which is great for basics, H&M and American Apparel, which can get expensive quickly. The past two times I’ve been, I mostly stuck to Broome St. and Broadway.

Eva’s Kitchen – 11 W 8th St

Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Price: Under $15

Eva’s Kitchen is kind of off the beaten path, but it was some of the best gluten-free and vegan food I had on the trip. For less than $10, I got a delicious Mediterranean-inspired salad with baba ghanoush, hummus and vine leaves.

Comedy Cellar– 117 MacDougal St.

Admission: Sunday- Thursday: $12-$13 per adult (*must be over 21 years old)

To get there: Walk down MacDougal St., just past W 3rd St.

If some of you recognize the interior of Comedy Cellar, it’s probably because it’s also the set of Louie C.K.’s Netflix series, Louie. It’s also where more established comedians do their sets. I went a late show, which went from 11:30 p.m. to about 2 a.m., as it was the last show of the night. There was also a surprise set from Jeff Ross, who some may recognize from Comedy Central’s Justin Bieber Roast. Although UCB was a great show, Comedy Cellar was a lot less informal and some of the performers- notably Michelle Wolf from the Daily Show (writer) and Godfrey from 30 Rock (writer)- had me laughing so hard, I cried. The only issue with Comedy Cellar is the two-drink minimum that came as a surprise when I was seated. The people I shared a table with had been there previously and said that they don’t enforce this rule, but be prepared to drop another $15 on top of admission.

Day 3: Escaping the weekend rush in Brooklyn

A Manhattan weekend in the rain is a recipe for crowds. So escape across the East River and check out the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, grab a crepe (or two) and explore Brooklyn’s hippest neighbourhood, Williamsburg. Finish the night a-la-Brooklyn at an arcade bar.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden– 990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn

By subway: Take the C train to Franklin Ave. station, transfer to S train. Stop: Botanic Gardens

Admission: $12 per adult

Hours: CLOSED ON MONDAY; Tuesday-Friday: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I was in New York. But based on the photos and reviews of the conservatory, it’s well worth the trip into Brooklyn! The garden is divided into five distinct indoor areas, each hosting plants of different climates. The Aquatic House showcases a large orchid collection, waterfalls and plenty of tropical and subtropical plants. The Bonsai Museum is one of the largest collections of bonsai trees outside of Japan. In the Desert Pavilion, shrubs, cacti, wildflowers and succulents from Africa, South American and some southern U.S. states are kept in a hot, dry area. The Tropical Pavilion demonstrates the importance of the conservation of the world’s natural rainforests through its display of plants representing medicine, food, fragrance and industry. Finally, the Warm Temperate Pavilion demonstrates the resilience of plants that survive in both warm and cool temperatures. The website advises to visit the Warm Temperature Pavilion in February, when the South African Bulbs are in full bloom.

Little Choc Apothecary– 141 Havemeyer St.

By Subway: Take the B48 bus to Classon Ave. Station. Take the G train to Court Sq.

Hours: Monday- Thursday: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Price: Under $15

Words cannot describe my love for Little Choc Apothecary. This Brooklyn Gem was the 1st fully vegan creperie in NYC and it’s also gluten-free! They make their own coconut and almond milks, nutella and vegan pesto, so the flavour in the crepes and coffee I had was incredible. I tried a sweet and two savoury crepe in the two times I visited. For the sweet crepe, I picked ‘newtella’ and raspberries as my toppings and the tartness from the raspberries tasted amazing with the sweet chocolatey goodness of vegan newtella. I had Room for Mushroom as a savoury crepe, which I had to restrain myself from licking the plate afterwards. The sauteed mushrooms and vegan basil pesto with cashew cheese rivalled my favourite crepe back in Toronto! (Check out my guide to Kensington Market to read more about Hibiscus.) I also had a bite of  The Breakfast, which was surprisingly delicious considering I’m not a big fan of scrambled tofu. I may have also just really liked their coconut bacon. I could easily rave more about the food here, but a photo’s worth a thousand words:

Browse in Williamsburg– Bedford Avenue

By Subway: Walk to Lorimer St. Take the L train to Bedford Ave.

Williamsburg is one of the better known areas in Brooklyn and is one of the more “hipster” areas in the Big Apple. With lots of cute shops and cute roads, it’s easy to wander around Bedford Avenue and enjoy the laid-back attitude of Williamsburg.

Barcade– 388 Union Avenue

By Subway: Take the L train to Canarsie- Rockaway Parkway.

Hours: Monday- Thursday: 4 p.m. – 4 a.m.; Friday: 2 p.m. – 4 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday: 12 p.m. – 4 a.m.

** Must be 21 years old or older

Not going to lie, I was exhausted and in a grumpy mood when I went here, which is why I don’t have photos from this bar. But once I played a couple of games, I had a great time. Drinks here are expensive compared to most bars in Brooklyn, but games are cheap. At the most, I paid $1 in quarters for a 2-player game.

Toronto is known for many things- the CN Tower, the Maple Leafs, Drake, the Weeknd, Kensington Market, to name a few- but a castle may not be the first thought to come to mind when you’re planning your trip to Canada’s largest city. Casa Loma, Spanish for “Hill House,” is a must see in your Toronto itinerary.

Although Casa Loma is a little ways outside of the downtown core, the sheer detailing of the walls and ceilings in its 98 rooms and 30 washrooms and the lavishness of the furniture, chandeliers and imported porcelain, make the castle a worthwhile commute on the TTC.

With its imposing exterior and lavish interior, Casa Loma reminded me of the Frick Collection in New York City. Both residences were built by wealthy industrialists; both boasted some of the best artwork in their respective countries; and both were rightfully converted into museums.

 Why You Need to Visit Casa Loma

A quick history lesson:

Casa Loma was the home of one of Canada’s first wealthy businessmen, Sir Henry Pellatt, who founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883. He was also knighted in 1905 for his military service with the Queen’s Own Rifles. Built from 1911-1914 for $3.5 million, Pellatt’s home was the largest private residence in North America.

Sir Pellatt’s numerous business, philanthropic and military connections meant a busy social calendar, of which organizing events consumed much of Lady Mary Pellatt’s time. As many as 50 servants would help Lady Pellatt keep the house in perfect order for her guests.

The Pellatts fell into debt in 1923 due to the government forcibly buying out the electric companies for public ownership by 1911 and their failed attempts at land ownership. They auctioned off many of their lavish belongings, totalling at $250,000 by the end of the auction, and were forced to leave their palace, which was later auctioned off at a starting bid of $1.5 million. At the onset of the Great Depression, the City of Toronto took ownership of the property for $27,303.45 owed in back taxes and was later turned into a tourist attraction by the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto in 1937. The City of Toronto remains the sole owner today.

I hadn’t done too much research before going to Casa Loma aside from the cost of admission, as I’ve learned that surprises tend to be the best part of exploring. Admission is $25 for adults, which includes a free audio tour of the castle. The audio tour was mostly informational with minimal commentary or context given to the residence or to the remaining furniture and decorations. I would recommend it if you hadn’t done much research, like me, however, it’s not essential to the experience there.

My favourite rooms…

Lady Mary’s parlour room, attached to her bedroom.

Lady Mary’s parlour room, part II.

The rug in Lady Mary’s parlour room.

Lady Mary’s bedroom – 2nd floor

I really enjoyed walking through Lady Mary’s bedroom, as it also included a personal parlour room. The chandeliers in her room were made of white porcelain with small paintings of flowers on them. She also had a small piano near the window, some couches and chairs, and a fire place. The room was mostly pinks, blues and yellows and I could imagine myself having a room in my hypothetical future home like it (well, the more affordable version)

The Yellow Room – 2nd floor

The yellow room, which is located in one of the towers of the castle, is a perfect circle. It was also one of Sir Henry’s many office rooms, however this one was used mainly to entertain business partners. The crown mouldings of this room were very intricate and I loved the extravagant gold tea set that was the centrepiece of the room. There was also a small upright piano in the room, which would’ve made for lovely entertainment at the time.

Skylight of the conservatory.

The Conservatory – 1st floor

Possibly my most favourite room in the house was the Conservatory. Although it did not have as many exotic flowers as I’m sure Sir Henry Pellatt had during the 1910s, the edges of the room were filled with beautiful troughs of flowers and had a beautiful fountain at the end of the room. The room was built in the south-east corner of the home, as it would receive the most sunlight- especially during the long winter months. The room also had a stain-glass skylight in the centre of the room, which adds to the beautiful, natural feel of the room. Apparently there are many weddings held in this room nowadays, and it’s very easy to see why.

Conservatory.

Skylight in the Conservatory.

For your day trip to Casa Loma…

Address: 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto

Subway stop: Dupont Station

Admission: $25 per adult

I would aim for 2-3 hours to fully explore the grounds while you’re there. I wasn’t able to take the secret tunnel to get to the stables or explore much of the back yard while I was there, as Casa Loma was setting up for a corporate event later that night. Although there is a cafeteria in the basement of the castle, I would recommend packing a picnic and eating it in the adjacent Spadina Park, where you have a view of the castle and of the Toronto skyline, if you eat closer to the stairs. And if you have time, roam around the neighbourhood as well. Casa Loma is located in one of the wealthier neighbourhoods and some of the homes are quite beautiful and are beautifully landscaped.

Packing carry-on only is a basically a superpower. You can avoid pesky airport scenarios like losing your luggage, being charged an overweight fee for checked baggage and lugging around a heavy bag all day. Plus, you can also get a little extra sleep or time in your destination as you don’t have to rush to the airport to make the luggage check-in time.

I recently discovered how amazing it is just to travel carry-on only. In the past two years, I have done three week-long trips to New York, a week-long trip to Quebec City and a two-week trip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, during which I attended a wedding as the maid of honour – ALL by carry-on only. So naturally, when I was packing for my four-day trip to Vienna, Austria, carry-on only was a no-brainer.

Leading up to my trip to Vienna, a British luggage company called Cabin Zero reached out to me and asked if I’d like to try one of their 44L back packs. (Mine is in the colour Karma Blue.) Needless to say, Cabin Zero’s features peaked my interest! It fits most major airlines’ carry-on restrictions, it has global tracking and you can use TSA-approved locks on the zippers. Plus it comes with a 25-year warranty if you like them on Facebook. They were also so kind and sent me three packing cubes, which definitely helped keep my toiletries and clothes in order during my trip!

So today, I thought I’d share a video of what I brought along for my four-day weekend getaway to Vienna!

For a full list of what I brought along with me (from the video, plus a couple items I forgot to include), pin this post using the social media buttons on the left. (If you’re on mobile, they’ll be at the bottom.)

Like it? Pin it!

What are your carry-on only packing tips? How long can you get away with packing carry-on only?

Let me know what you think about my first ever YouTube video in the comments below! Be sure to join me for all my travel adventures, tips and recipes on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram!

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on your favourite social media platform(s) using the buttons on the left. (If you’re on mobile, they’ll be at the bottom.)

To read more posts about packing, click here. Thanks for reading!

** Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means I may receive a referral commission from these products at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I use and love myself. And I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Your support in purchasing through these links enables me to maintain and update my blog, and finance future trips. Thank you!

Acne-prone, oily skin can be hard to deal with on a regular basis. It’s even more difficult to deal with when you’re traveling. Traveling is stressful: catching flights, packing according to guidelines, forgetting essentials, lines, crowds, tiny seats for hours on end… The stress is endless.

The last thing anyone with acne-prone, oily skin wants to worry about is how travel-induced stress will affect their face.

Over the past two years, I have learned what products really help clear acne and scaring. I have also learned what additional measures I should take before traveling. I don’t have any photos of my scaring or acne to show my skin’s improvements since changing my skincare routine. But I will talk about my everyday products, spot treatment tips and travel hacks for people with acne-prone, oily skin.

But first…

Why does oily skin become oilier whilst traveling?

The key to understanding why your face becomes oiler while traveling is understanding what conditions your skin is exposed to. Whether you’re flying, driving, or riding on a train, the air you are surrounded with is likely circulated and dehumidified. This means the air will try to draw moisture from whatever it can, including your skin. For people with dry skin, this means their skin becomes more dry. But for people with oily skin, their skin will produce more oil and sebum to compensate for the dry air. It’s a vicious cycle for people with acne-prone skin. But now we know our skin becomes oilier to counteract the air sucking it dry.

It took me a long time to realize that having oily skin does not mean I can skip moisturizer. It also took me a long time to realize that drying out my skin with 5% benzoyl peroxide or doctor-prescribed Retin-A (a drying vitamin-A cream) was causing my skin to rebel with more oil and sebum. So instead of drying out oily skin, here are what oils and moisturizers work well for our skin type.

 What I use to keep my oily skin under control

Lush Cosmetic’s Movis face wash was a game changer in my skin care routine. It is jam-packed with Vitamin E, a powerful acne-clearing antioxidant that helps stop sebum from oxidizing. After two months of using it twice daily, my acne and scaring along my jawline had disappeared. My colour-blind boyfriend even noticed! Like all Lush products, it’s made with natural ingredients and is free from animal testing. It also smells like cake!

Another Lush product I’m particularly fond of is their Tea Tree Water toner. After washing my face, I spritz the toner onto my face and neck to keep excess oils in check. Tea tree oil, juniper berry and grape fruit act as calming astringents in the toner. It’s also alcohol-free so it won’t dry out your skin.

Vitamin C Serum is a fairly recent addition to my skin care routine. I picked some up in September as a treat, as vitamin C is heralded as an instant skin brightener. Not only did I discover how true this is, but vitamin C is also great for acne treatment. Vitamin C deactivates free radicals so that vitamin E can swoop in and protect your skin from blocked pores. I use a pea-sized amount of the vitamin C serum on my T-zone every other evening.

I’ve also been loving Rosehip Oil. I had heard two things about rosehip oil before testing it out for myself. One, it was the natural version of Retin-A. And two, it’s great for clearing acne scaring quickly because of its high levels of omega fatty acids. I mainly use it along my  jawline every other evening to help get rid of any new spots and scarring.

To seal in my toner, I use Spectrum Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. One of my coworkers and I were bonding over acne woes, and she revealed that organic virgin coconut oil is great for acne-prone skin. Coconut oil has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that kill acne-causing bacteria. I use a dime-sized on my face every morning and night to ensure the oil can absorb into my skin.

During the summer, I find coconut oil is too heavy under sunscreen, so I use Avène After Sun Milk. Avène’s products are great for anyone needing hypoallergenic and sensitive skin products. It uses thermal spring water that has unique minerals and microflora that calm irritated skin. Although the lotion is a body lotion, it’s so silky and watery that my face doesn’t break out. I also use Avene SPF 50 Sunscreen during the sunny months, again because of its light, watery consistency.

How I take care of spots

Although my daily skincare routine has pretty much zapped all pimples and scarring, my skin is not completely immune to zits. In the off chance that I get spots now, I now swear by Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Oil. Tea tree oil is a better, natural alternative to 5% benzoyl peroxide. It’s not as drying as benzoyl peroxide, and it has anti-bacterial properties that help clear pores. I tend to use tea tree oil at night, as it has a very strong smell. To treat a pimple, I will use a Q-tip to apply the oil directly onto the spot. In 2-5 nights, the pimple will completely disappear. I also apply Rosehip Seed Oil to the spot once it is no longer raised to prevent scarring.

If I can feel a breakout coming on, I turn to Lush’s Dark Angels charcoal scrub to stop it. The charcoal, black sugar and mud base act as a gentle exfoliatant to help turn over dead, pore-clogging skin cells, and absorb dirt and toxins from your pores. It’s best to use it 2-3 times a week, like other exfoliants, to prevent skin irritation.

How to stop excess oil and breakouts while traveling

Now that we have my skin care routine out in the open, let’s get to some travel hacks that will save your skin from breakouts.

Firstly: If you’re having trouble keeping your skin clear regularly, I would recommend trying out the above products. If you’ve already tried the above Lush products without success, talk to their staff to find a product that works for your skin. I really believe in using natural products, as they tend to be less taxing on your skin. (Skin is your largest organ, after all.)

If your skincare routine works for you, then let’s talk about how to deal with acne-prone, oily skin while traveling.

As I mentioned above, traveling means you’re dealing with circulated, moisture-less air. One of the best ways to counteract this is to not wear make-up while traveling. Although it is nice to seem “presentable” while traveling, you really don’t need it when you’re stuck inside a moving vehicle. As the air sucks moisture from your skin, the make-up on your face will feel gross after a day of traveling. Plus make-up holds onto dirt and pollution, which let free radicals take free reign once your skin loses its moisture. (Read: Acne haven.)

On travel days, I use my serums in my skincare routine before traveling to keep my skin hydrated. I also bring a small container of coconut oil with me to reapply when my skin feels dry. Applying moisturizer directly to your skin is the best way to maintain skin hydration, apart from drinking water. I do not recommend using face mists, as they evaporate much quicker than their more viscous counterparts.

Another travel tip that I cannot recommend enough is Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets. A friend gave one of hers after a flight from Paris to Montreal, Canada. I ended up needing a second one, and being to embarrassed to ask for a third. The sheets literally feel like you’ve washed your face without actually having to. The sheets collect only the oil from your face, so any make-up will remain in-tact. (In case you’re using blotting sheets on non-travel days.)

Other tidbits worth mentioning

Besides my daily and travel products, I also use birth control to help clear up my acne. I will stress that it did not completely clear my face for the three years I had been using it before switching my skincare routine over to the aforementioned Lush products. But for the sake of total transparency, I thought I should mention it.

I also do my best to drink at least 1.5 L of water every day and keep caffeine to a minimum. It’s important to ramp up your water intake before traveling to at least 2L a day to prepare your skin for the dehydration it will face. I always either bring a reusable metal water bottle with me to the airport or buy a 1L water bottle once I’m through security for the flight.

I also find that eating a mainly plant-based diet helps keep my skin clear. Whenever I traveled and ate some meat and dairy, I found that my skin would break out. As I mainly get hormonal acne, I believe it’s due to the antibiotics and hormones used in those industries. Obviously, a plant-based diet isn’t for everyone. But consuming meat and dairy in moderation will limit the amount of added antibiotics and hormones in your body. You could also source local butchers and dairy farmers who don’t use hormones or antibiotics on their livestock.

Looking to escape the Toronto heat this summer? What better way that to hop the ferry to Toronto Island! With beautiful sandy beaches, plenty of sport arenas, bike rentals, award-winning gardens, Centreville amusement park and more, it’s the perfect way to cool off on a hot Canadian summer day! The Full-Time Tourist, 2017 ©

Contrary to Canadian stereotypes, Toronto can get pretty hot in the summer. That’s why close to one million people visit Toronto Island from May to September every year. I’ve escaped to Toronto Island twice in the four years I’ve been in Toronto, and both times I had an absolute blast!

My first trip to the island was mostly spent on Ward’s Island, walking through beautiful frisbee golf fields and along the shoreline boardwalk. For my second trip, I mainly stuck to the Hanlan’s Point side relaxing on the clothing-optional beach and taking a dip on one of the many secluded beaches on the walk back toward Centre Island.

Whether you’re a Torontonian exploring the islands for the first time, or a visitor to the 6ix, here’s how you can escape the heat at Toronto Island!

Baby, It’s Hot Outside! Escape The Heat At Toronto Island

Getting To Toronto Island

The most popular way to get to Toronto Island is a 15-minute ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. To get there, it’s easiest to walk south from Union station along Bay Street to get to the ferry terminal.

If it’s sunny and warm outside, there will generally be longer line-ups at the terminal from 10 am until evening. The line to buy tickets can sometimes take up to 45 minutes to get through during the week. It can be even longer on the weekends. I recommend skipping the line altogether and buying your tickets online. Although buying your tickets online won’t give you priority boarding, it will save you the time waiting in the initial line-up.

There are three different ferries to get to the island: Ward’s Island, Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point. The island itself is only 5 km in length, so it’s better to know where you plan to spend most of your day before choosing what ferry to go on.

If ferries aren’t your thing, another option to get to the island is via water taxi. Compare prices for the top two Toronto water taxi companies here and here.

For more information about ferries to Toronto Island, click here. 

Which Island Should I Go To?

Centre Island

Located in between Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island, Centre Island tends to be the busiest of the islands. The ferry brings many families take their kids to Toronto Island to escape the heat. There are many fun, child-friendly activities on Centre Island like the Centreville Amusement Park, the William Meany Maze, an award-winning gardens and bike rentals.

But Centre Island isn’t just for the kiddos. With ample shaded fields, barbecue pits and several beaches (hint: the secluded ones are along the way to Ward’s Island or Hanlan’s Point), there are plenty of activities for people of all ages to do!

I recommend taking a walk back in time through Centreville Amusement Park before making your way to the gardens for a quick snack break. From there, rent a bike and start exploring the island! And don’t be afraid to stop off along Lake Ontario’s shoreline for a quick dip in its cool waters.

Hanlan’s Point

Located on the west side of the islands, Hanlan’s Point is the quietest of the bunch. Known for its ‘clothing-optional’ beach, Hanlan’s Point is generally free from kids running around. Hanlan’s Beach is one of two clothing-optional beaches in Canada, with the other being in Vancouver.

The beach itself is the longest and one of the cleanest shorelines on the island. Men, women and non-binary folk take full advantage of going nude at the beach, so be respectful and don’t stare. For LGBTQ2I+ travellers, Hanlan’s Beach is also known as a gay hang-out spot because of its relaxed and non-judgemental atmostphere.

Hanlan’s Point is also known for having the most greenery on its island. It has a baseball diamond, bike trails, fire pits, outdoor tennis courts and outdoor volleyball courts. If you’re interested in seeing more nature on the islands, there’s also beautiful sand dunes near Hanlan’s clothing-optional beach.

Ward’s Island

Known as the ‘residential’ island, Ward’s Island is mostly free from tourists and, in turn, has one of the quietest beaches on the island! Roughly 650 people live on the island. Living on Toronto Island is much more difficult that living in the city, as there are no stores, no cars and no public transportation.

But if you’re looking to catch a break from the bustling crowds flocking to Toronto Island to escape the heat, Ward’s Island has plenty of activities to keep you busy for the day!

My favourite part of Ward’s Island is walking along the boardwalk along Lake Ontario. It has stunning views of sail boats and shoreline. There’s also a stand-up paddling (SUP) school that offers SUP rentals, tours and classes! Many water passages divide the island, making SUPing a great way to see Toronto Island from a unique perspective.

Activities To Escape The Heat

  • Strip down past your skivvies at Hanlan’s Clothing-Optional Beach. Just be sure to apply sunscreen to the areas where the sun don’t shine and be respectful of everyone’s privacy while you’re there.
  • Rent a ridiculous bike at Centre Island’s bike rental shop. Chose from your traditional bicycle or tandem bike, or go all out with the two-seater quadricycle or four-seater quadricycle if you have a larger group! The last two are shaded and offer spots to put any bags you brought to the island. This makes a bike ride adventure around the island a bit more bearable in the heat!
  • Take a dip at any of the four groomed beaches on Toronto Island. Or forge your own path, and take a dip at the many secluded beaches tucked away along the shoreline.
  • Play some lazy sports like lawn bowling or frisbee golf in one of the large, shaded fields on the island. Bonus points if you BYOB in a thermos.
  • Rent an SUP board, a kayak or canoe. Explore the islands by water for a couple of hours. When it gets to hot, it’s easy to hop in the water to cool off and keep on going!
  • Go picnicking! What better way to spend a hot summer’s day than in the shade or on the beach with a delicious picnic and friends?

A Mini-Packing List For Toronto Island

  • Water proof sunscreen! As the Aussies say: Slip, slop, slap that stuff on every couple of hours – especially if you’re taking a dip!
  • Picnic blanket & food! No one wants to wipe themselves with a sandy or muddy towel after a post-picnic dip. Bring a separate blanket to lay down on the grass or on the beach! Also be sure to pack lots of food & a water bottle for your activity fuelled-day! There are plenty of water refill stations interspersed on the island. For an easy gluten-free & vegan sandwich to bring along, try my brekkie sandwich recipe here. 
  • A bathing suit & cover-up! The bathing suit is as optional as Hanlan’s Beach, but bringing a cover-up to keep the sun off your skin is definitely a life saver!
  • Don’t forget your hat & sunnies! Keep your eyes from being too strained by the sun with a hat and some sunglasses. They’re both practical and stylish beach wear!
  • Any sports equipment! If you’re planning on playing some soccer, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, lawn bowling or any other sport your heart desires, bring it along with you! The Toronto Island ferries also allow bikes to be brought over from the mainland, but try to avoid bringing them in peak hour. No one likes the guy that brings his bike in peak hour.
  • Friends! It may be hard to cram them into your backpack, but they’ll make the day a lot more fun if you bring them along!

What’s your favourite way to escape the heat in Toronto?

Please share your favourite ways to escape the Toronto heat and your Toronto Island stories in the comments below! I still haven’t made up my mind about whether Toronto Island or the Scarborough Bluffs is the best way to escape the summer heat!! What do you think? Don’t hesitate to let me know if I missed any of your favourite activities on the islands!

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New York City is one of those places where it’s easy to be overwhelmed, turned around and lost- especially for first-timers. The city is essentially a maze of tall buildings, subway lines and long streets that stretch to eternity. But getting lost in NYC doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or scary experience for first-time visitors.

As I just came back from my second trip to the Big Apple and will be going back in less than a week, I thought I should share some tips that will help any first-timers navigate New York City like a pro.

7 Tips for First-Timers That Will Help You Explore New York City

1) Know before you go

Once you’ve booked days off work and have booked your flights to New York City, you need to know where you’ll be staying. For first-timers, I would recommend booking accommodations in Manhattan. It tends to be the more expensive option, but you’ll be closer to all the attractions and to a number of transit options. For returning visitors, I’d recommend either Brooklyn and Queens, as they are cheaper alternatives and provide a more unique New York City experience. But if you choose Brooklyn or Queens, book accommodations closer to a subway line, as busses are often unreliable.

Next you’ll need to plan your days to maximize your time exploring. When I was a first-timer in NYC, I made the mistake of leaving planing to the night before. This often led to me packing too many activities in one day and then having to rush to whatever show or reservation I made that night. So to maximize exploring time, I recommend having a start and end point each day and fill in the gaps with stops in between those two points. Once I figured this out, it made planning days much easier. For example, Grand Central Station, New York Public Library, the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building are all within travel distance of one another. Here is the best way to hit all of those stops without needing to double back on the subway line.

Speaking of subways, always be sure to factor in travel time as a train from downtown to midtown could take as long as 40 minutes. Once your routes have been planned, double check travel time a week before your trip, to make sure that you won’t be affected by track work.

Finally, check the weather a week before you leave and the day before. This way you’ll know what attire and toiletries you’ll need to pack (I’m looking at you, sunscreen) and this way you can plan certain indoor-based days for colder or rainy weather. I underestimated how much the rain affected my trip, as many of the places I wanted to visit were very busy when I tried to do them. For some ideas on how to plan for a rainy or cold day, check out my post on the best way to explore New York City in the Rain.

2) When to book reservations

Whenever I’m in New York City, I always try to plan something for the evening. Whether it’s a Broadway Show, a show taping, a comedy show, Top of the Rocks, or a performance, making a reservation is almost a requirement to get a seat.

When to book a Broadway show: Try to book a show at least one month before your trip. If you’re visiting during peak-season for tourists, give yourself at least a month and a half to snag those tickets. As a side note, if you’re buying from their website, prices are in American dollars so try to book them on a day where there’s a good exchange rate.

When to book a show taping: Show tapings for late night shows go by a lottery system, where it’s free to enter, but it’s better to enter your name a bunch of times to try and get a seat. I was unsuccessful in getting seats to Jimmy Fallon when I went, but your best bet is to try every day for different shows. Start entering your name at least a month and a half before you go.

When to book Shakespeare in the ParkAnother free activity in New York City is Shakespeare in the Park. Again, this is based on a lottery system where you have to enter your name to get tickets, but you can also line up the day-of to get tickets. The latter isn’t the best option, as I was told that people line up as early as 6 a.m. to get tickets to the performance.

When to book a comedy show: Comedy shows are always a great fail-safe plan to have when visiting NYC. I would recommend booking the morning of or the day before you plan on going to the show. And if you can’t get in, there’s always more than one comedy show going on in the city and there’s always the possibility of getting tickets at the box office just before the show. Make sure you arrive 15 minutes before the show, as that’s usually when the box office will start giving away tickets of those who made reservations, but haven’t checked in yet.

When to book Top of the RockAs you may have read in my post about how to avoid crowds in NYC, Top of the Rock is the best way to see the New York skyline. (Because this way you can see the Empire State building and the One World Trade Center in the skyline.) So check the weather and find the clearest day during your stay and book yourself in that day when the sun is setting. Just let the person helping you know that you’re wanting to catch the sunset. This way you can see the city in the daylight and when the city is lit up.

3) Buy a weekly metro pass

Possibly the most important tip I can give you is to invest in an unlimited weekly metro card. If you’re staying for more than a weekend, this card will be your best friend. In New York, the transit system is often more reliable than a cab or an Uber. (And it’s less painful than walking for miles every day.) At only $31 for the week, you can not only get from A to B on the 1/2/3, but also the N/Q/R and the A/B/C/D.

4) NYC Subway App is your new BFF

Speaking of bad subway jokes, sometimes Google Maps gets lost and sends you on a roundabout route. I’ve made a habit of checking Google Maps to see where the nearest subway stations are and the routes offered. Then, I’ll go to the NYC Subway App and follow the subway line(s) to make sure that the route I’ve picked is the most direct. The free app will also let you know about any transit delays so that you have more time to explore the city, not the subway line.

5) Wear your walking shoes

Another important tip is to always wear comfy shoes when you’re in the Big Apple. I am forever underestimating how much walking I end up doing in a day. And normally my feet will reward me for my underestimation with calluses and blisters, so comfy shoes people! Save your little toesies!

Also, another walking tip: A single avenue does not equal one street in NYC. Let’s just say I was grateful that the bus home was delayed because 3 avenues is actually closer to 24 streets and a bucket of sweat.

6) Use offline maps on your smartphone

When I first heard of offline maps, I didn’t really understand how to make one. But it’s the easiest lifehack anyone could every ask for. Log into your gmail account and enter your destination in Google Maps. Click on the three vertical dots next to your destination and hit download offline map. There should also be an option to send the map to your mobile device. For an image by image demonstration, check out this post by How to Geek.

7) Always pack snacks

I am that person that goes from happy to hangry in 30 minutes, so snacks are a necessity for when I travel. Especially since finding gluten-free food in a new city isn’t always an easy task. My boyfriend caught on to this trend pretty quickly after our first trip to New York and made sure to break out the trail mix and Date & Nut Energy Bars whenever I suddenly became quiet and less smiley. Let’s just say snacks will not only save your from starvation, but they’ll also save your relationship.

Bonus tip for international travellers!

Are you visiting New York for the first time as a non-American? Here are some apps to make budgeting, communicating (if English isn’t your first language), transportation and living accommodations easier.

There are two main passes between the Alberta side of the rockies and the British Columbia: Rogers Pass and Coquihalla Pass.

Rogers Pass is found in Glacier National Park, in between Golden and Revelstoke, BC. You will likely take this pass if you are driving to or from southern BC into Calgary, Alta. While you will pass through three incredible national parks– Banff, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks– it’s one of the most dangerous drives in Canada. The narrow and windy road is built for more experienced drivers.

In the winter, avalanche patrol regularly sets off controlled avalanches in the area. Avalanche season runs from Oct. 1 until May 31. Winter tires are required from either the first snowfall of the season or mid-October through until mid-May.

Coquihalla Pass is found along at the end of the Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Hope, BC. You will likely take this pass if you’re driving from BC into Edmonton, Alta. or Northern Alberta. This is the safest highway to use between the two mountain towns. It has multiple lanes of traffic, compared to the narrow and single-laned Trans-Canada highway. It’s also roughly an hour faster than the Trans-Canada highway.

Where to get gas

Do. Not. Go. Below. Half. A. Tank. Of. Gas.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Towns are few and far between in the mountains. Sometimes they’re not even along the highway. Sometimes they charge astronomical prices for gas. And sometimes they’re just plain out.

Do not risk running out of gas in the mountains. Drivers are few and far between. And “the next town over” can be more than a day’s hike. And let me tell you, it’s a hefty cost getting a tow into town!

It’s also very dangerous in the winter to run out of gas. First of all, day light hours are shorter. It’s also cold. And there’s the potential for a blizzard. So just fill your gas tank. Don’t question it, just do it! (Plus it may be your last chance for a bathroom break before you’re debating pulling off to the side of the highway!)

If you’re driving through Jasper (Coquihalla Pass), the cheapest places to stop for gas are in Hinton, Valemont, Clearwater, Kamloops (good place to stop for the night), Merritt and Hope.

If you’re passing through Banff (Rogers Pass), the cheapest places to stop for gas are Canmore, Golden, Revelstoke, Sicamous, Kamloops, Merritt and Hope.

What You Need In Your Emergency Kit

You already know the basics: battery booster cables, flashlight and batteries, a spare tire, a rope, water and food.

But if you’re planning to drive through the Canadian Rockies– no matter the time of year– pack for an unexpected change of weather. Even in the dead of summer. I was once stuck in a snow storm off the side of the highway in the middle of August. The weather changes fast in the mountains.

So don’t forget to bring: a blanket per passenger, extra warm clothing, hat and gloves, an emergency candle (for warmth), lighter, shovel (to dig out your tires / around your door if caught in a blizzard), window scraper, snow brush and traction aids (like kitty litter or planks of wood).

Get to know your vehicle

One of the most important things I’ve learned about having to drive rental vehicles on recent road trips is to get to know your vehicle before driving. You might have trouble adjusting the seat properly, knowing where the wind shield wiper is, how to open the gas tank and hood, how to set cruise control, where the emergency tire is, or how to even start the car (those damn push starts!). Be sure to know the ins and outs of your car so you’re not fumbling to figure them out on the road!

If you’re taking your own vehicle, double check your oil and engine light before heading out. And make sure your vehicle has winter tires during the winter months before driving through the Canadian Rockies. It’s actually illegal to cross through mountain passes without winter tires from mid-October through until May.

I knew that taking my younger brother’s 2005 car on a 30+ hour road trip was probably not the best idea, but I was willing to try it anyways just to save a couple of extra bucks. Sure enough, not even an hour into our drive, I had to turn around because the power steering had gone! I lost half a day, which sadly cut into my time in Victoria. But I ended up with a vehicle where the heating actually worked properly and had an auxiliary cord plug-in!

Double check road conditions

Before heading through the mountains, it’s especially important to check the conditions of the roads. Especially through Rogers Pass or the Coquihalla Pass. You’ll have to check for snow fall, hail, freezing rain, avalanches, temperatures dancing around the 0°C (because of the possibility of icy roads), fires, and rock slides.

The best way to do this is to pick a town on either side of the Rockies, and on either side of the pass that you plan to pass through and check the weather. So for Rogers Pass, check the conditions in Banff, Golden, Revelstoke and Kamloops. And for Coquihalla Pass, check the conditions in Jasper, Merritt, Hope, and Chilliwack.

If driving conditions are poor, wait it out.

Stick to the main roads

This is incredibly important if you’re planning to drive through the Canadian Rockies in the winter.

First of all, the main highways and roads will be cleared of snow and salted before any other road. This minimizes the risk of ice and slush, both of which can land you in the ditch. Keep in mind that if the road is wet, it’s best not to use your cruise control as there is a chance for black ice. And if you run into car trouble, it’s easier for fellow motorists and tow trucks to find you.

In the summer months from May through until October, this tip applies less.

Do you need a park pass?

Until the end of 2017, all of Canada’s national parks are free! But if you’re planning a road trip in 2018 onward, you will need to get a park pass if you plan to make any stops in the national parks. If you plan to drive through, just let them know at the gate and head on your merry way!

But if you plan to stop off at some scenic points or spend the night in town, the length of time spent in the national parks will be how much you pay to enter. The fee paid is transferrable between national parks, so if you’re driving through Banff National Park, you don’t also need to buy a park pass for Yoho or Glacier National Park.

To see some of the most beautiful Canadian national parks to visit this year, click here.

Keep an eye out for wildlife

For most of the drive, it’ll be just you and the highway… and the wildlife. Keep an eye out along the side of the highway– especially in large plains, where they tend to graze. At night, you can see the reflection of the headlights glow back at you.

If you see wildlife near the road, slow down, as they may dart across the road. If you want to take photos, stop your vehicle in a safe location. Don’t get out unless they’re a safe distance away. Don’t get out at all if it’s a bear.

And for the most important tip: If a moose, elk, caribou, or a deer jumps out in front of your vehicle and you can’t avoid hitting it– hit the gas not the break. This may sound counterintuitive. But because all of the animal’s weight is in its body (and hardly any in its legs), slowing down will cause your front bumper to dip. This means if you hit the moose, elk, caribou, or deer after breaking at a high enough speed, your front bumper will act as a ramp going straight through your car windshield. If you speed up, however, there’s a chance that the animal will go over your car instead.

Road work is inevitable

Whether it’s road construction during the May-October “summer” months, or if it’s avalanche patrol in the winter months. You will most likely come across road work during your road trip. Be sure to follow the road signs, as speeding fines tend to double in these areas.

And if you’re passing emergency vehicles on the side of the highway, it’s law to slow down to 60 kilometres an hour Canada-wide.

 Be in it for the long haul

Driving through the Canadian Rockies takes much longer than you or Google Maps will anticipate. So take regular breaks. Driver fatigue is real– especially when you’re constantly trying not to get distracted by the beautiful views.

I did all of the driving during my Edmonton-to-Victoria-to-Vancouver-to-Edmonton trip, and that first 16-hour leg of driving was killer. You’re not superwoman (or superman). Take your breaks and make sure you’re able to drive while the sun is still up!

Don’t drive at night

Gas stations are closed. Tow trucks won’t arrive until morning. You can’t see the road ahead of you properly (i.e. if there’s ice). And wildlife are harder to see until its too late.

Just don’t do it.