What I did on my summer vacation (and how you can get the most out of yours)

vacation 5My family and I have just returned from what was probably the best family vacation we’ve ever taken. We spent two weeks on a road trip, driving from our home in Winnipeg first to Lake Superior Provincial Park, then to Ottawa and Gatineau Park, then to Montreal and Quebec City, and finally to Toronto.

In total, we put on more than 6500 kilometres, driving halfway across this big beautiful country of ours. That’s a lot of time to spend inside a vehicle full of five people and all of our luggage and camping supplies! Luckily, we like each other and our kids are old enough to manage their own boredom.

vacation 2We packed a lot into this vacation. We spent four days camping far from city lights (where raccoons tried to steal the food from our picnic table), a week in a lovely home in a great neighbourhood in Montreal (rented through airbnb), a few days in a hotel in Toronto, and finally a night in a cheap motel (that hasn’t been renovated since the seventies) in rural Ontario on the way home. We went hiking, played on the shore of Lake Superior, toured Canada’s parliament building, visited a couple of museums, wandered around Old Montreal and Old Quebec, attended Osheaga (a huge music festival on an island in Montreal), watched a synchronized swimming world championship, went to a major league baseball game, went shopping, ate in some delightful cafes, and did lots of family bonding over shared jokes and cheap meals.

Here’s a video compilation of our travel photos.

In case you’re planning a family vacation in the near future, here are a few things that helped make this a great one for us.

  1. Let every member of the family plan at least one part of the vacation. We always let each member of the family pick at least one restaurant, one family activity, and/or one place they want to stay. When they know they’re getting their way on at least one thing, they’re more willing to take part in other things. The impetus for this vacation was our oldest two daughters’ dream of going to Osheaga. They had no idea when they started talking about it that we might be willing to drive half way across the country for it, but it fit in well with a long-held dream of seeing more of the eastern part of the country.
  2. vacation 6Consider options other than hotels for your accommodations. One of the highlights of our vacation was the house we rented through airbnb in Montreal. It was really lovely to have a place where each of the girls had their own bedroom, we had a full kitchen where we could prepare some of our meals, and we had free parking, laundry facilities, etc. It was also in a much more interesting neighbourhood than most hotels are.
  3. Include everyone in the vacation budget considerations. We budgeted a daily average that needed to cover food, entertainment, subway fares, etc. I used an app on my phone to keep track of all expenses. The girls were told ahead of time that if we could keep expenses down on some days, we’d be able to splurge on other days, so they were quite cooperative in eating cheaply as often as possible so we could afford a few nicer restaurant meals and entertainment. Our oldest two daughters will soon be taking vacations on their own, so it was a great experience for them to learn about the decisions that go into staying on budget and still having a great time.
  4. Check your passports far in advance. The one mistake we made on this vacation was to assume our passports were all up-to-date. We had planned to drive through the U.S. (which is shorter and allows for a little more variety), but discovered just before we left that some passports had expired. Luckily, we didn’t have to change many plans since most of our time was going to be spent in Canada anyway.
  5. Adapt to what shows up. This piece of advice flows out of the last one. We had to change our route, but in the end we didn’t mind because it allowed us to show our kids more of the beauty of our own country, and we spent a beautiful couple of days in Lake Superior Provincial Park, which we hadn’t planned on originally.
  6. Don’t over-fill your agenda and be open to surprises. We had a few things planned in advance (ie. Osheaga and the Blue Jays baseball game), but otherwise, we made decisions as we went along. One of our favourite surprises was Mosaika, an amazing light show that’s projected on the front of the parliament building in Ottawa. Another favourite surprise for Maddy was the opportunity to watch a synchronized swimming world championship competition in Montreal.
  7. vacation 3Find a comfortable balance between activity and rest. There was a lot we wanted to see on this trip, so we filled many of our days with activity, but in between we spent long leisurely hours relaxing in our lovely home-away-from-home. On our last full day in Montreal, we intentionally put nothing on the agenda, and each member of the family was able to find the kind of quiet time they needed – one wandered, one read, one watched movies, one went running, two went for a drive up Mont Royal, and three walked to the grocery store and baked cookies.
  8. Carefully guard time for yourself. As every parent knows, vacations can be exhausting when you’re constantly having to make sure your kids are fed and entertained, make decisions about what to do every day, and often cope with anxiety and grumpiness over new places, new faces, tiredness, and unexpected challenges. Before you leave on vacation, make a pact with your partner that you will each get at least a portion of a day all to yourself to do with what you please. Marcel spent an afternoon at a major league soccer game, and I spent mine in a coffee shop and on the streets with my camera. I also found some times in between for some solo wandering, which my family is quite accustomed to me doing.
  9. Find ways to blend in with the locals. Travel, for me, has never been just about site-seeing and tourist attractions. I love to learn more about the local way of life and practice seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and so we learned to take the metro (subway), we ate at places in our neighbourhood whose target audience was local patrons rather than tourists, and shopped at the local grocery stores. Staying at an airbnb house helped in that regard, since we were surrounded by people living ordinary, day-to-day lives rather than tourists in a hotel.
  10. vacation 4Encourage everyone to express their needs. Good communication is especially important when you’re spending more hours together than normal doing things that are outside of the routine. You need to practice being clear with each other. The day after spending a day with our youngest daughter at Osheaga, where about 40,000 people crowded every space, I found myself desperately in need of quiet, open space, where I could indulge the introverted side of me. I had to be clear with my family that I needed personal space and quiet time and that when I seemed to be pushing them away, it was not about them but rather about me and my needs. Others in the family were also encouraged to be honest about their needs, and so there were times when one of us stayed behind, went for a solitary walk, or looked to others for support when we were feeling a little nervous.
  11. Be gentle and intentional when it comes time for re-entry. We all know about the crash that can come after a good vacation, when you have to return to work and routine and bills to pay and broken relationships to deal with and school to prepare for and… and… Be kind to yourself when you’re coming back home and be intentional about making this time as positive as possible. We built in a day of downtime (when we had very few expectations of each other) between arriving at home and having to be back at work. One of the other things I did this time around that helped make re-entry more gentle was a thorough housecleaning before we left. It was nice to return to a newly steam-cleaned carpet, some new-to-us furniture, and clutter-free space. For more on re-entry, read this helpful blog post from Jen Louden.

Anything to add? Feel free to give your vacation tips in the comments.

p.s. Now that I’m back from vacation, I’ve got lots on the go. I’m working on a new e-book on making deeper connections, I’m preparing for the September offering of Mandala Discovery, I’m opening some spots for new coaching clients, and I’m preparing to host another Pathfinder Circle for people who want group coaching. I’m also hoping to launch a follow-up to Summer Lovin’ for the Fall.

An end of summer sale, in honour of ME! (And you!)

Which way shall I wander next?

At the beginning of this summer, I turned 45. It was kind of a big deal – a mid-way point in my life.

When I turned 45, I decided that, instead of getting all serious and introspective (like I am inclined to do), I would do something fun to honour what I like about myself.

And so I created the e-course “A Path for Wanderers and Edge-walkers” and started writing lessons about what it means to be a wanderer, a globe-trotter, an edge-walker, a gypsy, a gadabout… in other words, what it means to be ME.

And then I spent much of the summer wandering. I wandered through my city, I wandered on beaches, I wandered through the woods… I wandered on foot, I wandered by bicycle, and I wandered by canoe. While I wandered, I came up with lessons and inspirations and I TOOK GREAT DELIGHT IN MY WANDERING! Not only that, but I learned a lot from it and realized that my wandering edge-walking spirit is one of my greatest strengths. You can see a lot from the edge that people in the centre can’t see.

Now I have completed 12 lessons in the series (none of which I wrote at home – it seems I needed to be doing the wandering in order to write about it), and it is some of my very favourite writing ever. It’s writing that stretched me to think outside the box, to re-define myself, to dig into my spiritual self, to re-imagine the world, and to see other people differently.  I hope it will stretch you too.

One of the things I learned this summer is that not only am I a wanderer and an edge-walker, but most of the members of the tribe I tend to gather around myself are wanderers and edge-walkers too.

Here’s a quote from someone who’s been enjoying the series this summer:

“Heather’s unique blend of practical wisdom, passion & creativity is reflected so eloquently here. She instinctively knows how best to inspire & encourage, capturing perfectly the deep yearning of every edge-walker & wide-eyed wanderer! The rich mix of personal story-telling (with corresponding photographs), a treasure trove of insightful interviews plus a wealth of probing questions, provides the reader with much to ponder. It is both challenging, hugely inspirational & deeply uplifting – a real treat! Thank you!” – Jo Hassan

Last week I spent a good deal of time compiling all 12 lessons into an e-book. When I wander, I like to take photographs, and this e-book not only has 115 pages of juicy, rich, inspiring content, it also contains 115 of my original photographs from my global wanderings.

I am so in love with this product that I want to share it with everyone.

Here’s a list of the lesson titles:

1. Permission to be a wanderer

2. What does your Wandering say about You?

3. Risk Making Connections

4. The Wanderer at the Edge – On Naming Ourselves

5. When Journeys Change us – Slowing Down to the Speed of Soul

6. Curiosity DIDN’T kill the cat – Life as a Learning Journey

7. At the Halfway Point – Self-care for Wanderers & Wandering as Self-care

8. Following the Thread – A Wanderer’s Journey

9. Like the Wild Prairies, Remember your Nature

10. The Blessing of the Pelicans – Guidance in the Wandering

11. Wander to the Right – Playing with your Brain

12. Wandering as Spiritual Quest

Each of these lessons includes an interview with another wonderful wanderer. Find out who they are here.

For a sample lesson, click here.

Since it’s nearing the end of summer, I’m in a good mood, and I’m in the final stretch of preparing for my 100 km. wander in early September, I want to give you the chance to buy “A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers” for half price.

That’s just $12.50 for 115 pages of juicy, fun, challenging content. (But only until the September 7, and then it goes back to its regular price of $25.)

To learn more about it click here. On that page, you’ll have the option of buying it as a set of emails that you receive each week for 12 weeks or as a complete 115 page e-book.

If you already know that you want the complete e-book, go ahead and click “Add to cart” below.
Add to Cart

Into the woods – a wanderer picks up a paddle

Tomorrow I will be here:

Picture it – 11 women, 5 canoes, 3 lakes, 2 portages, 5 tents, 1 remote campsite on the edge of the lake, 0 roads, 0 flush toilets, 0 electronic gadgets, 1 garden trowel to dig temporary toilets in the woods, and dozens of great conversations.

This wanderer’s heart is doing a little happy dance just thinking about it.

I have been very fortunate this summer to be able to thoroughly embrace my inner wanderer. Not that I’ve gone on any grand, expensive adventures, but with a trip to Columbus, a week at the lake, a weekend at the Folk Festival, a few days on a canoe trip, three days of walking with three other wonderful women coming up next month, and lots and lots of walking to prepare for my 100 km. walk, I have definitely fit the definition of Happy Wanderer.

Some of my favourite writing this summer has been the stuff I write for A Path for Wanderers and Edge-walkers. The piece I’m preparing to release today is about how wandering silences our logical left brains and gives our creative right brains space to play and imagine. My right brain will be having a hey-day on this canoe trip, and I just KNOW that I’ll come home with lots of creative ideas.

I love that several of the people who are receiving the weekly emails for A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers have written to say “Oh my GOSH! How uncanny your timing is! Just when I was wrestling with this issue, your email showed up and helped me find clarity.” There’s something special happening with that little e-course, and I love being a conduit for it. People are learning to embrace the fact that they love to wander and can often be found at the edge of the circle checking out the “road less travelled.”

Just for fun, I’d like to offer one of you a free subscription to the 12 emails (that culminates in an e-book compilation of all of them) that include my wandering wisdom and the wisdom of 12 other wonderful wanderers I interviewed.

To enter the draw for one free subscription (worth $25), either leave a comment about where your wandering feet are taking you this summer, or post a link to this on Twitter or Facebook. (If you’re canoeing, I suppose it’s where your arms are taking you rather than your feet. 🙂

So tell me… how are you feeding your wandering heart? Walks or bike rides through your own neighbourhood, camping trips, journeys to other countries… what’s your unique brand of wandering?

To inspire you, here’s a short slide-show of last year’s canoe trip.


The week that changed me

My head, heart and body are full of the memories of last week at ALIA. I have been changed.

I have been transformed by the many people who brought their vulnerability, their longings, their spirits, their truths, their hurts, and their gifts from all over the world to a common space in Halifax where all of us dreamed together of what the world could be like if we would put our heads/hearts/bodies together and work for transformation. I have sat with people from Sri Lanka, Brazil, Czech Republic, Chile, Poland, California, Alaska, Holland, Denmark, Ohio, Zimbabwe, and many places in between, holding space for beauty, wisdom, and goodness. I have moved my body with greater freedom than I have for a long, long time. I have sat quietly and listened to the wisdom of the earth. I have shed tears over the fears that have blocked me. I have stretched myself and delighted in the stretching of those around me. I have been comforted, inspired, encouraged, and changed.

It will take me weeks to fully distill all of what last week was for me. It will take even longer to let the changes and wisdom sink fully into my being. These things I know for sure: I felt like I was coming home, and I knew I had found “my people”.

There are lots of posts to be written and many conversations to be had, but none of that needs to happen quickly. For now, I am mostly just sitting with it and letting it seep into the deepest parts of me.

For now, while words feel inadequate, I am playing with images. Last night I put together this simple video of photos I took during the week. The words come directly from my journal – notes I took from workshops, presentations, and conversations.


Photos are available here.

Getting ready to go

I’m not feeling very focused tonight. I was going to write some kind of semi-profound post about going away, preparing for what I expect will be a life-altering week, and leaving the family behind for the first time since Marcel’s breakdown. But nothing very profound is emerging.

So I will part with just a few random thoughts popping through my mind.

  • All is well in our household. There’s a lovely balance and a peacefulness I wouldn’t have expected even a month ago. I can go away without worry.
  • Last night, there were five extra teen girls sleeping in our house. I liked it, despite the late night giggling that occasionally woke me. I’ve always wanted to have the kind of home where teens feel comfortable hanging out.
  • Marcel and I went for a coffee date tonight, as we often do just before I leave. It wasn’t much, but it was lovely in its simplicity. I was struck by how strange the other girls (who spent the night in our house) thought it was that we still go out on date nights. None of their parents do.
  • I am going to ALIA with an open mind and an open heart. I want to see both mind and heart expanded by the things I hear and the people I encounter.
  • This morning I finished sewing the dress that Nikki designed for her junior high grad. It looks quite stunning. She could strut down a New York street with the Sex and the City girls and not feel out of place. (Yes, pictures will follow.) That girl’s got a future as a fashion designer!
  • I feel so very, very lucky that this life has taken me to so many interesting places. Sometimes I think I have the perfect life – just enough travel to satisfy my wanderlust, but then a comfortable home and beloved family to come home to when I’m done.

Traveling with confidence and creativity

Recently, Jamie Ridler expressed a desire to become a more confident traveler. And my little brain went “Bing! Now THERE’S some advice I can offer!”

I’ve been on an average of 6 business trips per year for the last dozen years – some short and some long. On business, I’ve been all over Canada, into the US a few times, to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, and Rome. Plus I’ve backpacked around Europe, traveled to Mexico, and did lots of road trips with the family all over North America. I’ve taken planes, trains, automobiles, boats, rickshaws, bicycles – you name it – all over the world. When I traveled to Ethiopia, India, and Bangladesh, I was responsible for all of the (complicated) logistics and management of a film crew. So I guess you could say I’ve learned a thing or two about travel.

  1. To increase your confidence, before you leave, prepare a little travel notebook (or file folder) where you keep all of the phone numbers, addresses, back-up phone numbers, etc. of all of the people you need to meet, all of the places you’ll be staying, the airlines, etc. You never know when you’ll need to reach someone in a panic and you’ll be glad you have it all in one place. Plus if you have it in a notebook, you can add any new information you need as you travel, like – for example – the phone number of the nice cab driver who delivered you to your hotel.
  2. Do the research you need ahead of time to increase your confidence. Now that the internet makes it so easy, I’ve become fairly masterful at taking public transit in strange cities. Print out transit maps, find out where the nearest subway stop is to where you’re staying, find phone numbers for taxis, etc. Some airports and/or transit systems even tell you how to get from your gate to where you need to be to get transportation to your hotel. Remember: information is power – the more you know ahead of time, the less you’ll have to worry when you get there. (It’s also good to find out ahead of time what you can take onboard the plane. Your airline will have that information on its website. With security changing so often these days, you have to stay on top of the new rules.)
  3. Speaking of transportation, I highly recommend learning how to use public transit in the place where you’re going. It’s cheaper, often more efficient, more interesting, and you get a much better flavour for the city you’re staying in. When I was in Dallas, I found out there was a vintage trolley car that would take me to the conference centre every day for free (or next to it). It was so much fun and I met the most fascinating trolley car enthusiasts who were volunteer drivers and conductors.
  4. When it comes to things you feel uncomfortable with, though, take baby steps. Like public transit, for example. For the first trip, take a taxi almost everywhere, but make up your mind to take at least one subway ride. You don’t have to figure it all out at once and nobody will fault you for taking the easiest way.
  5. One of my favourite pieces of advice – skip the ‘big box hotels’! You know what I’m talking about – the ones lined up in a strip by the airport with about as much character as a MacDonald’s Happy Meal. Check out http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/. I have stayed in some of the most amazing apartments, old inns, character homes, etc. through bedandbreakfast.com. If you’re not thrilled about sharing a bathroom (and truthfully, it’s really not a big deal – people who tend to stay in B&B’s are usually pretty respectful, polite & clean), a lot of them have private washrooms, so don’t let that stop you. Be sure to check the comments and ratings because I’ve found them to be very accurate. The only time I was disappointed with my stay was the one time I ignored the negative comments and took a chance.
  6. Find people who genuinely know their city/neighbourhood and ask their advice about great restaurants, where it’s safe to walk, how to catch public transit in the area, etc. One of the best things about booking through bedandbreakfast.com is that most of these places are owned by people who truly care about their homes and about hosting people.  Over breakfast, ask them about their favourite local haunts – the hole-in-the-wall restaurant no tourist would set foot in – and you will find the BEST local culture. (Twitter has also become a good resource for this – when I was headed to Chicago, I asked people about what things I shouldn’t miss in the city.)
  7. Bring a little comfort with you. I always travel with a portable candle (in a tin cup with a lid) and lighter in my toiletries bag. Sometimes it’s the best way to relax in the evening after a harried trip. Plus I usually travel with a light weight silk shawl that’s wonderful to wrap around my shoulders when I get a little cool and/or sleepy on the plane. And when you’re dealing with jet lag, one of your best friends may be your mp3 player – at least if you’re lying in a bed in Bangladesh in the middle of the night trying to sleep while geckos are having a conversation on your wall.
  8. Pack light. I made a few mistakes early on and packed way more than I needed, but now I just bring the bare essentials. You never know when your flight might be delayed and you have to run from one gate to the next. When you’ve got nothing more than a small roller bag and a backpack, you’ll be thanking me for the advice. Plus it’s a lot easier to take public transit when you’re not overloaded. I spent three weeks in Africa with a suitcase that was small enough to be a carry-on bag and I didn’t miss anything – trust me, it can be done.
  9. Trust people. This is a biggy. I’m not saying you should be naive and let some strange man take you home in his car (you still have to use your discretion about who’s trustworthy and who’s not), but almost every single time I decided to trust the person who was willing to take me under his/her wing and help me navigate their city turned out to be a good thing. I have only once gotten scammed by a person (and really, it was pretty harmless – he just got a little more money out of me than I should have parted with for helping me get to the market in Addis Ababa, but I was never in any danger), and on the flip side, have had some truly exceptional experiences when I’ve chosen to trust. One of my favourite travel moments was when a family in Ethiopia felt sorry for me dining alone and invited me to eat at their table. They ended up taking me out on the town to see some great Ethiopian performers.
  10. But even when you don’t find friendly local families, you can still have a great time alone. When I first started solo business travel, I’d order room service instead of eating alone in a restaurant. That got old pretty quickly, and I really wanted to experience more interesting food and surroundings. The first few times felt a little awkward, but now I take great pleasure in savouring a good meal alone in an interesting restaurant. If you’re uncomfortable at first, bring along a magazine, a book, or your journal to fill the time while you wait for your food, but don’t miss the opportunity to people watch and listen in on a few conversations.
  11. No matter how well you plan, now and then, things will fall apart. The best you can do is learn to roll with it. Sometimes the best surprises come when your plans fall apart. I flew to the other side of the world with a film crew minus a videographer (he’d jammed out at the last minute), and without a film permit or visas for India. I had to hire local videographers in both India and Bangladesh AND hope that the Indian consulate in Bangladesh would treat me better than the one in Canada had. In the end, I hired the most amazing videographers (who are both now my Facebook friends) with all kinds of local knowledge I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and my hosts helped us navigate the consulate and everything fell into place beautifully.
  12. To make your travel more interesting, be open to new experiences and new people. Chat with cab drivers – I’ve heard some of the most fascinating stories from them. Go for walks around the neighbourhood you’re staying in. Be an explorer! Some of the best treasures I have found have just been discovered by wandering aimlessly through a city.

Is there anything I missed that you’re dying to know? Or other tips you’d like to share?

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