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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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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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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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

I'll Follow You Anywhere

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It’s hard to know where to start when writing up my guide for Cuba. To start, there was so much pastel everywhere that I can hardly call my time there “pastel hunting” – the entire island is a rainbow of milky shades!

I did a horrible job of researching before our trip (in my defence, it was fairly last-minute), so unlike my usual travel habits, I landed in Cuba almost entirely unprepared. In retrospect I definitely should’ve packed some allergy medication and bug spray, brushed up on my Spanish skills etc. but there was something exciting about not having it all figured it out.

Though our trip was short and not properly scheduled, we managed to do so much between the resort and Havana!

We stayed in Memories Jibocoa Resort an hour outside Havana, and split our time between the two. At the resort we indulged in massages at the on-site spa, sipped endless pina coladas by the beach, swam in the pool under moonlight and frequented the 24-hour deli for late-night grilled cheese sandwiches. On Fridays there is a Cuban party on the beach complete with fresh cut coconuts, cocktails served in pineapple and a killer live band, so make sure you check that out if you’re around! A catamaran tour complete with snorkelling at the reef is also not to be missed – who knew flying fish actually fly?! If you feel like getting a bit wild, you also have to visit the piano bar, where singing along is a must (don’t worry, if you order the “fire drink” you won’t be shy for long!)

When it comes to our time in Havana, I’m just going to list all of the things we loved most below. The city was so alive, it was almost overwhelming, but with the help of our amazing driver we were able to cover a lot of ground in a super short time.

In Havana //

Eat at Paladar Los Mercaderes
Drink at La Guarida
Dance with Daiquiris at El Floridita
Explore at Fabrica De Arte
Stock up on snacks at the fruit stands
Walk along the Malecón seawall
Hire a colourful vintage taxi for a tour
Shop for cigars at Morro Castle

Keep scrolling for our travel tips and so many photos!

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A few general travel tips:

*Take out Canadian cash and exchange it into the convertible peso (for tourists) at the hotel when you arrive. There is no way to get this currency outside of Cuba, and when you’re heading back you can have any leftover cash changed back to Canadian at the airport.

*Learn as much Spanish as you can, even if it’s just the basics.

*If you’re vegan, bring along a lot of protein bars and other filling, nutrient dense snacks. We love Luna Bar in Lemon Zest . Being pescetarian is super easy, and vegetarian isn’t bad either, but if you’re vegan you’ll likely be living off of just fruit and bread the entire trip. Also if you’re vegetarian watch out for meat products in unexpected dishes, like rice and beans!

*Plan to disconnect as much as possible. Wifi is few and far between, and buying internet time can get pricey – but who wants to be on their phone anyway in such a beautiful place? A portable charger is always a must in our packing routine.

*If you can, plan to bring along some extra clothing and household goods, like toothbrushes, condoms, tampons/pads and baby products. These items are expensive and hard to come by in Cuba, and in my personal experience leaving them with locals can be a great way to say thank you.

*Bring insect repellent , sun screen , basic first aid items, and do NOT forget any prescription meds! Again, very hard to come by.

Additional resources: Margo & Me has a super helpful guide on her site for American travellers!

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An extra special thank you to Siren Communications and Memories Resorts, plus everyone else who made this amazing vacation happen!

I'll Follow You Anywhere

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When I first booked a trip to California with no concept of when I’d be back, I really didn’t have much of a plan. I had someone to stay with of course, and there were loose talks of visits with friends and family, but the truth is when I boarded that plane I had no idea where my travels would lead me.

In the end, no plans could’ve covered everything that I managed to see. I didn’t just go to California, I went all over California, from horse riding on the beach in Sonoma to driving through the Red Woods of Big Sur. I went to an 80s’ dance party that’s hidden inside a vending machine, I met some of my Instagram idols for a casual brunch, and I saw more parts of the state than most people who actually live there full time.

I was feeling pretty satisfied with my adventures by the time the last leg of my time in the sunshine rolled around, but then Kelsie came to visit and introduced me to the magic of Hotwire.com. Full disclosure: I am AWFUL at bargain hunting, but even I got into this site. You can basically play hotel roulette! We downloaded their app on a sleepy night in LA and before we knew it we’d scored a room at The Ace in DTLA for a night! It was the ultimate staycation, and after a night of dancing at a local disco bar (please go to Honeycut next time you’re in town!) we decided to try our hand at finding a few more hot rates.

We ended up booking a crazy spontaneous trip to San Diego, a city neither of us knew ANYTHING about, and in the morning we were off in our Hotwire car rental to find out what we’d been missing. It turns out the answer was a lot – so much in fact that one night was nowhere near enough. San Diego is lush, right on the water and filled with adorable local gems and swoon-worthy spaces. I wish we’d had more time to see everything on our list, but there’s always time to book another last-minute vacation with Hotwire, right?

Special thanks to @ellistracy for all the amazing local tips! Best Instagram tour guide ever!

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Where we went:

Pigment // Kelly from Studio DIY told me this is the best store in the world, so I went in with ridiculously high expectations, and I was still totally blown away. Just go, save up a lot of spending money, and go!
Communal Coffee // This is a coffee shop that sells floral drinks, floral toasts, and actual flowers! It’s incredibly well decorated, the staff is lovely, and the back patio may be actual nirvana.
Native Poppy // Nestled within communal coffee, this place knows their blooms! They also sell a curated collection of stationary etc.
La Puerta // A great spot for cheap margaritas and delicious guac in the heart of downtown. Make sure you time your visit around their numerous “happy hour” times.
Taco Surf // cheap, simple, and delicious. We highly recommend taking your food to the beach for a picnic, regardless of the weather.
Balboa Park // Perfect for a sunny stroll, this park has incredible flowering trees, an epic cactus garden, and SO many gorgeous museums.
Cafe Gratitude // One of my favourite vegan spots in California, this was actually the most gorgeous location I’ve visited yet, and the food was divine as always.
Seal Beach // We saw tiny baby seal pups lazing on the beach! This is reason enough to make this spot a stop in our books.

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For Next Time:
Fairweather
Pendry
Kindred
Ironside
The Madison
Bracero Cocina
Fleet Science Centre
San Diego Natural History Museum
Holy Matcha (not quite open yet!)

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Special thanks to Hotwire for making all of our spontaneous vacay dreams come true!

Dear DiaryI'll Follow You Anywhere

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I don’t really know how to write this post without sounding like a brag, but I have to be honest: life is really, stupidly good. It’s not just the sun, and the beach, and the comically fresh avocados… it’s the ability to go for a run every day without piling on layers, to order something vegan at any restaurant you desire, to make friends who take you to LACMA and rock climbing gyms and comedy shows because that’s how people hang out here. It’s a feeling of freedom that escaped me for too long.

Yes, I’m romanticizing, but in all fairness this place has been total bliss for me. I went vegan the day I touched down, have finally fully said goodbye to the disgusting world of cigarettes, and feel more in shape than I have in months. Sunshine and fresh veggies are the best medicine money can buy in my books, and coming down to California to escape some of that Toronto winter doom and gloom back home was just what the doctor ordered.

As I write this I find myself in San Francisco for a few weeks, a brand new place that I’ve never really explored! So until I get my bearings and can formulate a list of SF faves, here are my favourite NEW findings from L.A. this past month:

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Otherwild // If you were ever looking for housewares with boobs all over them, look no further. Seriously though, this Los Feliz shop is filled with perfect feminist finds and queer goodies. I wanted to buy the entire inventory (rainbow stairway included).

Shojin // Not only is Shojin a totally vegan sushi restaurant tucked away in a mall in Little Tokyo, but it also happens to be the best service I’ve ever experienced. If you want to feel like a princess and try the most creative fish-free Japanese dishes around, this is the place for you.

Shop Belljar // Stocked with RAOP favourites like HKM and Samantha Pleet, this lovely little store of amazing pastel finds is right next to Otherwild, so prepare to leave the block with a seriously dented wallet.

Go Get Em Tiger // A popular brunch and coffee spot in both Larchmont and Los Feliz), this cafe is perfect for a light meal, a tasty beverage, and lazy outdoor lounging (unless you go on the weekend, then you’ll be fighting for a seat all morning).

Eric Buterbaugh Perfumes // If you’re walking down Beverly Blvd. and come across a Nirvana-like garden with an undeniably delicate and distinct floral scent, you’ve found Eric Buterbaugh’s space. Part gallery, part perfumery, this gorgeous building is full of unexpected sensory delights, and if you think floral scents are outdated and boring, get ready to think again.

Tenoversix // An endless array of local art, dreamy housewares and wardrobe essentials await within this pastel heaven.

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Juice Served Here // Simple and to the point, this LA juicery has some crazy good combos. We recommend “Tropic Thunder”, “The Pixie”, and/or “Pearl Punch”… if you have to choose.

Bar Bandini // Cozy and crowded, this tiny dive bar in Echo Park makes for the perfect place to get close to someone new. Try the 101 Cider House “Cactus Red” if you’re not sure what fancy craft beverage to order – it’s hot pink and delicious!

Super Smash Buns Food Truck // The best late night food delivery of ALL time. We ordered the Vegan Quesedilla, Masala Fries, and Rose Lavender Lemonade and basically had a collective meltdown over the goodness.

Cliffs of ID // Rock climbing is rapidly getting big everywhere, but it’s REALLY big in LA. All the cool kids are doing it, and on top of being a fun way to make friends it’s also a SUPER hard workout!

Erin McKenna’s Bakery // I’ve been a massive fan of Erin’s Vegan, gluten free goods since first discovery her original bakery in NYC a few years back, and seeing her shop in Larchmont was like bumping into a deeply missed and oh so sweet friend. This is also the only place I know of that makes vegan black-and-white cookies, which just so happen to by my all time favourite!

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Still on my list to see…
Sweet Fin Poke
By CHLOE
SQRL
Little Pine
Block Party
Sage
Clifton’s
Donut Friend