I'll Follow You Anywhere

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It’s not often you get to go to a new place that you know so little about, and looking back I was pretty clueless about Jamaica. Of course I’ve met a lot of wonderful Jamaicans here in Toronto, tried a few patties at the few places with a veggie options and sipped rum punch (lots of rum punch), but when it comes to the geography, language and vibe of the country itself I sort of had my head in the sand. Air Transat invited me on a press trip just over a month ago and though the trip itself was only a couple weeks later I immediately agreed – after all, you guys know how I love saying yes to everything!

For a small island, Jamaica is more rich in beauty and culture than one can’t really imagine without being immersed in it themselves. The sun is SO hot, like the biggest warm hug you’ve ever felt wrapped around you 24/7, and even at night no jackets are needed. The stars are bright and beautiful from almost any vantage point, especially when you’re near the beach (which you basically always will be). Evenings are filled with reggae music blending perfectly with the sound of the ever-present crash of waves and sunrise seems to call thousands of birds from the jungle to a wake up call.

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Transat worked with the Jamaican Tourism Board to build out a go-go-go schedule for our time there, and I am so grateful so how much I got to see in just five days. I know I usually make a list of favourites, and don’t worry I’m going to do a whole separate post about what and where to eat as a vegetarian, but I thought it made the most sense here to go through a summary of the adventures day by day!

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Day 1 //

We arrived in Jamaica mid afternoon and all at once we were shedding our layers like snakes, revealing our pale winter skin beneath. We met Dwayne, our awesome driver for the week, and our amazing guide from the Jamaican Tourism board and headed to the hotel.

We stayed at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach and though it wasn’t outrageously luxurious, it was a truly wonderful experience from start to finish. We welcomed with fruit punch in pineapples, the rooms were impeccably clean and minimal, and the staff was out of this world friendly – I cannot sing their praises enough. Except that time they tried to rope me into a dance lesson on the way to the bar… not cool guys! In all seriousness though everyone was so friendly, kind and helpful. I felt welcomed, safe, and at home our entire stay.

After checking in we met for our first dinner buffet, which actually had a lot of vegetarian options like callaloo rice and spicy mixed veggies every night! A couple plates later (a second serving and a separate dessert plate is crucial at a buffet) and we were ready to head out to our first location: Rose Hall Great House.

In all honesty this attraction wasn’t my favourite – the history was interesting but the theatrics weren’t really in my wheelhouse. That said the *awesome* dive bar in the basement most certainly was! Aptly named Thursty Spirits, this spot had the best craft cocktails in town and the vibe/music/decor was killer (no pun intended). Whether you tour the spooky home at night or the daytime to visit the gorgeous gardens, make sure you stop by the basement bar for a couple glasses of witches brew, and don’t forget to tell them Alyssa sent you!

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Day 2 //

When we headed to the Martha Brae River to “raft” I had blow up boats and rapids in mind, but upon arrival it became clear that was NOT the case. In Jamaica rafting means drifting down a beautiful green river through the jungle on a handmade bamboo raft with a “captain” steering at the front (though if you have good balance you might be able to take over as captain with enough polite requests!) It was one of my favourite experiences on the entire trip and a must-see in my books. Don’t forget to stop for a rope swing on the way down and bring cash to tip your captain!

Switching gears from laid back to a bit more wild we drove to Hampden Estate for a rum tour, and my gosh, that rum was STRONG! If you make it out that was be wary of the Rum Fire – it will make your mouth burn for the rest of the day.

Last but not least we toured the historical town of Falmouth. A hub for cruise ships, this town has beautiful Georgian architecture, amazing fruit stands and good non-tourist shops to stock up on hot sauce and jerk seasoning (buy it here, not at the airport!)

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Day 3 //

We had a slightly later start on day three so I spent the morning shooting before heading out to Zimbali Retreats, an incredible organic farm complete with cooking school, yoga, tours and options to stay overnight! We wandered through bamboo forests, under banana trees and around cabbages, learning about this organic farm’s inspiring philosophies, like sharing more means growing more. After the tour (/hike) we returned to the kitchen for the most delicious meal of the whole trip and a cooking demo. I seriously could’ve stayed forever!

Next we drove to Negril’s Seven Mile Beach for margaritas, swimming, and some much-needed tanning time. I really loved this community, with all of its music, colours, and the hilarious rule “no building shall be taller than the tallest palm tree.”

We ended the day with sunset at Rick’s Cafe, named one of the very best places to watch the sun set in the whole world! There’s also a couple crazy fun cliffs to jump off, and you better believe I jumped from every single one!

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Day 4 //

The last day was meant to be mostly free, but we wanted to get out there and try some of the local foodie favourites! We went wild for Jerk at Scotchie’s and discussed the polarizing debate on who makes the best Jamaican Patties (Juici or Tastee?) before heading to our final attraction, Dunn’s River Falls. The Falls themselves were crazy beautiful and perfect for an afternoon dip, plus we got to zipline over them! It was my first time ever on a zipline and by the end I was convinced I need to pick up doing zip treks on my own. SUCH a fun way to get around!

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Day 5 //

I woke up early for some final swimming and beach lounging before we headed to the airport to say our goodbyes. It was pretty tough to part ways not only with such a special country, but with each other too. At least we had our Option Plus upgrade to get us through the line ups crazy quick amongst our tears! Also, don’t skip out on the in-flight chef’s meals by Daniel Vézina – I generally avoid airplane food at all costs but the Orzo dish was so delicious! Exactly the kind of comfort food I was craving on the journey home.

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I have a feeling I’ll be back in Jamaica REALLY soon – what did I miss?!

Special thanks to Air Transat, Visit Jamaica and Decameron Hotels for being such amazing hosts!

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I'll Follow You Anywhere

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I have had a bit of an obsession with all things Mexico for SO many years, yet somehow I hadn’t taken the leap and booked myself a trip. I always admired my late grandmother’s treasures from her travels, the bright blankets and wicker baskets, and only in recent years did I start to recognize they were all Mexican artisan goods from her trips. The only time I got to visit was for a wedding with my family years ago at an all-inclusive in the middle of nowhere (in an area where the waves were too big to swim no less!) and it didn’t feel like Mexico, it felt like a weird bubble of America moved to a warmer place. That was my first and last all-resort vacation!

When the offer to join a friend on her family vacation to Sayulita with her Mom and Grandma came up, I said yes immediately – after all, I had a 2017 goal to say yes to any trip I was invited on! Plus, I’d heard amazing things about Sayulita, a surfer’s heaven hidden deep in the jungle outside Puerto Vallarta, and I was pretty desperate to see it for myself.

It’s hard to put this amazing little village into words – it’s so small but there is SO much life and colour! Picture a paradise where you walk around in a bikini, margarita in hand and sun beaming down on your face, occasionally stopping for the BEST FOOD EVER, and you’re picturing Sayulita – and it doesn’t stop there. On top of the best Huevos Rancheros you will ever taste, this town has a truly inspiring crafts community and the friendliest people you could ever come by. I immediately felt right at home and within the first day we’d established a group of “friends” that we bumped into all week. There’s a ton of vegetarian friendly fare, the dogs run wild but they all have owners and the local shelter does free spay and neutering, and most restaurants don’t use straws in an effort to keep plastic out of the ocean. I felt so lucky to be able to share in such a magical place, to connect with so many locals and fellow travellers and dance under the stars almost every single night to live music. I get a smile on my face just thinking about it.

From surfing (/falling a lot) with my amazing friends at Sayulita Cruz Surf Camp to spending all my money at Evoke The Spirit, I ended up with a way bigger guide to this tiny village than I ever thought possible, and I’m thrilled to share it with you!

Scroll down for my full list!

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Where to Shop //

Evoke The Spirit
Manyana
Révolucion del Sueño
Mura Bags
Pom Pom Market! This is right near the bridge in the middle of town and you can’t miss it.

Where to Surf //

There are a ton of surf schools in Sayulita, but none come close to Sayulita Cruz Surf Camp in my books. Some of my very best days were spent on day trips to empty beaches in their surf van, and though I’m FAR from any good I definitely got better with their help. I can’t wait to get back and hit the waves with them again!

Where to Eat //

Choco Banana
Mary’s Tacos
La esperanza surf cafe
KM 5 Surf Bar
Barracuda
Blue Corn Mama Cafe
Wakika Paletas

Where to Dance & Drink //

Don Pato’s
Atico Breakfast Cafe
Palmar Trapiche
Frente al Punto

Where to Stay //

Hotel Vista Oceana (right on the beach)
El Pueblito De Sayulita (amazing pool!)

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Jo and I are already planning to go back in the Fall for Halloween! What did I miss on this first trip?

I'll Follow You Anywhere

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There are without question many drawbacks to living so far from my hometown, but as I get older I start to discover more and more advantages too. Time with family is that much more special, I covet the mountains and ocean more than ever and every time I go home to visit I find the city transformed with new developments I couldn’t have dreamed of!

When I originally left Vancouver fresh out of high school I was bored by the slower pace, but now I soak up every moment of quiet I can while back in town. That said, you might even find Vancouver has got a leg up on Toronto in some departments, with spots like Virtuous Pie vegan pizza, the stupidly beautiful Botanist restaurant and SO many craft breweries! Check out my full list of favourites new and old here:

New Finds //

Nectar Juice
Botanist
Anh & Chi
Hey Kokomo
33 Acres
Besties (and Sunday! Cider)
The Bird and The Beet
Brassneck
The Good Spirit
The Alibi Room
Small Victory
Nightingale
Ask for Luigi
Four Winds Brewing
Andina
Kissa Tanto
Virtuous Pie
Rainbow Alley

Oldies But Goodies //

Moderne Burger
Me n Ed’s Pizza
La Casa Gelato
Butter Baked Goods
Medina Cafe
The Cross
49th Parallel

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Dress UpI'll Follow You Anywhere

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So I already published the BIGGEST NOLA GUIDE EVER, but believe it or not, there are still a few more posts to come. One of the restaurants in my guide was so special that I figured it was owed an entire post of its own.

Pastel people, meet Brennan’s, one of the pinkest and prettiest places I’ve ever been! I noticed the cotton-candy pink exterior on our first walk through the French Quarter on day one, and without even glancing at the menu I knew we had to go in – it was love at first sight!

A few days later we returned for brunch and explored the space itself, a wonderful collection of whimsical rooms filled with my favourite shades of green, pink and peach. There were hand-painted oyster dishes on the walls, glass lined with drawings of tropical birds, gorgeous tiled tables and a courtyard complete with pink flowers and a turtle fountain! It seemed never ending as I explored room to room, and even the bath room was what dreams are made of.

In my star spangled romper and pink sunnies I couldn’t have felt more at home, and if you love pink, you’ll fit right in too!

Scroll down to shop the post

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I'll Follow You Anywhere

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It’s hard to truly understand New Orleans without having seen, heard, tasted and felt it yourself – it’s a truly sensory experience unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. When our team member Kelsie went for Valentine’s Day last year (mini guide here) I’ll admit I was intrigued, but NOLA didn’t actually end up on my radar until my friend Tellie asked me to go down with her this past November. I had a rule for 2017 that I’d say yes to any adventure that came my way, so I bought the ticket and started making lists of things I wanted to see in the 7 days I was there.

Suffices to say I had no idea I’d end up with a list THIS big! Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever done a city guide this gigantic all at once (hence the delay in getting it published for you guys), but there was just SO MUCH GOOD! I mean for starters, the entire city is almost completely painted in pastel shades – it’s a #pastelhunting dream if I ever saw one! I’m surprised I didn’t lose my voice from all of the excited squealing I did walking around New Orleans. The first day we explored the Bywater neighbourhood, our favourite part of the city, I couldn’t go two steps without snapping another photo of the sweet colourful houses.

Even as someone who loves to write, I have a hard time summing up New Orleans on paper. The city is so ALIVE, with so much FLAVOUR in every sense of the word. Live jazz pours into the streets from every bar, and incredible musicians play loudly on the sidewalks outside too, creating a symphony of sound. The food is rich and hearty, and the cocktails are unparalleled. Best of all, the people are so darn friendly! Every Uber we took or beer we ordered at a bar came with an offer of advice, local spots to see and a friendly smile (if not a hug). Though it was never top of my list, I can’t wait to get back to this beautiful colourful city!

A few travel tips:

-If you’re vegetarian, plan ahead. This is NOT a lot of veg food and even less vegan so you’ll have to strategize your eating plans. I tried to include restaurants with options for everyone on my list but always check the menu first!

-Always pack a bathing suit. The weather can be super unpredictable, but when it’s hot you’ll want to take advantage of your hotel pool, or go visit The Country Club.

-I know it seems obvious, but be careful if you go out drinking! NOLA is home of the yummy fruity drinks that are secretly super strong. Beware of the “Hand Grenades” and “Hurricanes” specifically if you don’t want to miss a day of travel because you’re sick in bed (erm, not speaking from experience?)

-Though New Orleans is awesome for anyone, I especially recommend it for couples and lovers. Everywhere you go feels like the best date ever (like when I got roped into Swing Dancing classes at a dive bar) and the romance opportunities are endless. Move over Paris!

-If you’re international take out a bit of cash, as there are still a few places that don’t take credit cards (like the famous Café du Monde!)

Scroll down for the full guide!

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Maker:L,Date:2017-8-26,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:Y

Food //

Bar Tonique
Bratz ya’ll
Pizza Delicious
Brennan’s
Bacchanal Wine Bar
NOLA Brewery
Mcclure’s BBQ
The Grill French Quarter

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Josephine Estelle
Cafe Beignet
Imperial Woodpecker Sno Balls
District Donuts
Sucre
Commander’s Palace
Carousel Bar
Drip Coffee
The Mellow Mushroom
Oak
Elizabeth’s
The Country Club

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French Truck Coffee
Sylvain
Congregation Coffee
Old Point Bar
Stein’s Deli
Poke Loa
Napoleon House
Magasin Cafe
Lilette

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Maker:L,Date:2017-8-26,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:Y

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Shops //

DNO
The Elizabeth Chronicles
West London BQT
Lionheart Prints
Freda
Folio and Flores
Peaches Records
Hemline
Lucy Rose
Tattoo a Go Go
Porter Lyons
Angelique Clothing

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Hotels //

International House Hotel
Hotel Mazarin

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Places //

Botanical Gardens
Lafayette Cemetery
Street Car
Longue Vue
City Park

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NOLA shopping guide:

Pink Carry-On Luggage
White Cowboy Boots
Cafe Dumonde Beignet Mix 28 oz
Cafe Du Monde Coffee and Chickory, 15 Ounce
June Christy – Gone For The Day/Fair And Warm
Crystal Louisiana’s Pure Hot Sauce