How I Became A Nomad


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"“Oh yeah? Well you’re a nomadic Gypsy!” is a wannabe insult my brother often hurls at me. I say “wannabe” because it’s not really an insult to me, but I know he means it to be a little more derogatory than I take it. I like changing things up, moving around, seeing new things, breaking the routine. I like being a nomad.

I don’t want to cast my dear brother in a bad light here. No, not at all. We get along (pretty) well and have a loving, teasing, bickering older sister – younger brother relationship. (If only he would listen to me more!) But with me at twentysomething and him, still at twentysomething but three years younger, and our being different people and all, we have different ideas about the paths our lives should take.

Recent sibling selfie.

Recent sibling selfie.

Having recently graduated from college, my brother moved home, bought his dream car (a bright orange, ’69 Chevelle) and took a full time job working in the family business. He’s happy. He’s good at it. He’s needed. He’s got a plan to save for a down payment on a house and wants to buy one when he’s 25 or 26. I’m proud of him.

Now, we’ll take a look at me at his age. I finished school, started this blog and fled to Italy. I came back to Canada with no idea of what I’d do, but with the notion that I needed to find a job. So I found one, in an office. The job was stressless, the pay was decent for entry-level and it had the added bonus of being right across the street from my parents’ house. Ottimo. Great.

So I did that for a year, reading blogs by travel gurus like Nomadic Matt and Chris Guillebeau  when work was slow, slowly becoming bored and feeling trapped behind my desk. Luckily, the universe was on my side. The company downsized and let me go, which I documented here. Around that time, my first magazine article was published here, and I received my first cheque for writing. I took a month off, enjoyed Christmas and then went back to school for a semester to get a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. Then the adventure really started.

Saviour on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Saviour on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

I got a  job leading student groups around Europe for the summer and I did a bit of my own travelling. I came back to Canada and started teaching, both ESL and Italian. I did that for 8 grueling months (it’s not that the work was grueling, but the commuting was) and continued to write. In May, I went back for round two of students in Europe, scored a couple more writing gigs and did some more travelling. Now I’m back in Canada, teaching English for four months and preparing for my next trip.

Two Canucks and  the Kiwi hot air ballooning in Turkey.

Two Canucks and the Kiwi hot air ballooning in Turkey.

Oh yeah, didn’t I mention it? In December I’m heading across the world to New Zealand to be the maid of honour in my best friend’s wedding. She’s a bit of a Canadian adventurer too. So’s her Kiwi fiancé. (One day I’ll write their story on here and really wow you all).

I’ve currently got a one-way ticket to New Zealand, but it’s not going to stay that way. I wanted to make sure I’d get there in plenty of time for the wedding, so I booked my ticket back in the summer. Now I’m sorting out my travel details. I think I’ll hit up Australia and Hong Kong while I’m away, because, what the heck? Right? Right.

I’ll probably be gone for about 6 weeks, but it could be longer. How do I get this time off? I have a job that fortunately/unfortunately (but more fortunately, at the moment) is done by contract. Yep. 7-week teaching contracts. I’m here for two contracts, then I don’t give my availability for the next one. If I’m back before the start date of the March term, I’ll probably be able to grab some teaching hours then.

But that’ll all go up in smoke if my Italian work Visa comes through. Fingers crossed, and if the gods of bureaucracy smile upon me, I’ll be heading over to Italy in the spring for some undetermined amount of time. Until I get itchy feet again, and feel the need to go somewhere else.

People ask me all the time where I’m off to next and how I can make it all work for me. I’m still muddling through, making mistakes, but, at the moment I’m happy with this “nomadic” life I’ve created. It means I get to do interesting things, in interesting places, with interesting people.

Mud baths in Turkey! Photo credit: Lance Jackson

Having a mud bath in Turkey. Photo credit: Lance Jackson

This post is the intro to a short series I’m planning to publish here, entitled How To Become A Nomad (And Not Give Up Everything). I’m aiming to let you in on a few of the tips and tricks I use to juggle my life, pack in all this extended travel and not have to pawn all my possessions. Look for the first installments in coming weeks.

A Peek at Puglia


For years Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"now, I’ve wanted to visit the region of Puglia. Geographically speaking, we’re talking about the heel of the Italian boot. Now that I’m back from a fairly relaxing 9 days down there, I’m writing to share my experience with all of you.

My impressions of Puglia:

Tourism in Puglia is not nearly as developed as it is in other parts of Italy. For my travel buddy and I, this meant that we encountered no lines, no wait times (except for trains), hardly any pesky tour groups, hardly any pesky English speakers (we both speak Italian), and lots of peaceful moments. For that, it was blissful.

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On the other hand, if you’re used to being shunted around on pre-organized tours from monument to church to museum to historic site, Puglia may not be the ideal place for you. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my 9 days down there. And we moved around, despite the very interesting (read: horrible) rail system. But if you’re not a lover of seafood and the seaside, it’s maybe best that you stick to the central and northern parts of the country.

The coastline and sea are beautiful, the people are friendly and helpful and the food is delicious. Would I go back to Puglia? Absolutely. Would I necessarily spend 9 days there again? Maybe not.

Practical notes:

  •  You can get around by train, but for us (two fairly seasoned Italy travellers), all the routes we took were a pain in the butt. On the roads, traffic seemed very light, so renting a car in Puglia is probably quite doable and desirable. Distances aren’t long, but three train switches in 40 kilometres makes even a quick jaunt to the seaside a daunting day-long task. Also, some trains don’t run on Sundays. At all. And when two lousy train engineers on the Maglie – Otranto route decided to fare sciopero on a Saturday (translation: strike meaning: extra day off) we ended up riding a bus with every sweaty, loud high school kid in the area:

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  • If you don’t do seafood, stay away. Seriously. I eat very little fish or seafood, apart from canned tuna and fresh Canadian salmon, but this trip introduced my tummy to some excellent new varieties of sea creatures. If you’re not willing to try, stay home. We encountered many restaurants that serve only seafood dishes. Kiss your spaghetti bolognese goodbye and opt for a plate of spigola (sea bass) or orata (sea bream).
  • If you’re looking to be occupied all the time, bring a book. Or a small child. I don’t want to say that there aren’t many things to do, but…there aren’t many things to do, depending on your interests. Our “city tour” of Lecce was a 2-hour jaunt from church to church. The guide was informative, but… Yes, the strolling, the eating, the beaching, the travelling all takes time, but when the entire region shuts down from 1 – 5 pm for the “pausa” or “siesta”, you’ve got nothing to do but bake on the beach or take a snooze yourself. (We did both.)

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  • We weren’t able to find too many reasonably priced organized tours to join, like wine tasting tours, olive oil tasting tours, etc. There were a few little things, but knowing how much you’d pay in Tuscany for a similar service, I couldn’t bear to part with 150E for a 4-hour cooking class.

Highlights of the trip:

Visiting the trulli houses of Alberobello and the Grotte di Castellana:

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A wonderful birthday dinner of spigola in the main piazza of Monopoli.

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Taking a dip in the beautiful Ionian sea at Gallipoli.

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Taking a dip in the spectacularly turquoise Adriatic sea at Otranto.

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Riding in the back of an Ape Calessino, then having to get out and push (yes push!) when it got stuck in the sand.

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The food. The wine. Da leccarsi i baffi! (Mouthwatering!)

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Practical Italy: 5 Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to Italy


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Before you know it, “travel season” will be upon us. Planning a trip to Italy? Before you book, make sure you take a look at these things to consider when planning a trip to Italy. Keep in mind that Italy doesn’t work like Canada or the US or England or really, like anywhere else, so the more thought you put into your trip, the better.

1. When are you planning on going? Your experience will differ depending on when you travel to Italy. I’d say anywhere between May – September would be considered high season. Prices of everything will be at their peak, lines will be longest, temperatures will be warmest, and beaches will be the most crowded, especially in August. For many things, it would be extremely wise to book ahead (everything from tickets to the Coliseum to hotel reservations) and pay the small booking fee that accompanies such things in Italy. Trust me, the few euros you spent booking your tickets is so worth it when you pass by all the poor schleps standing in line under the blazing Roman sun to get a glimpse at the Coliseum. With your pre-reserved tickets, you’ll breeze right by and into the Emperors’ playground senza problemi.

Looking for a calmer time? Try October or April, but be sure to avoid Easter.

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The Cinque Terre beaches in August.

2. What are you planning on doing? Italy offers something for everyone, in my humble opinion. But I’d say it’s best (especially if you’re travelling in high season) to figure out exactly what you want to do and where you want to do it, in order to make sure you have the best Italian experience possible. I’m not saying jam-pack your trip full of things and run around with a never ending ‘To Do” list, but have an idea of what there is to see and where you can see it. Don’t go to Florence if you think you want Roman ruins, and don’t bother with the Cinque Terre if you’re looking for the Renaissance.

Then, if your top thing to do in Florence is “sample as much gelato as possible”, there’s no need for heavy planning, except for maybe mapping out a few gelaterie. But if you just have to get in to see the David, and walk the Vasari Corridor, and take a painting class, and visit Santa Croce, and catch a game of Calcio Fiorentino, you need to get your organizational skills out and do some planning.

Many things are closed on odd days of the week and can have interesting hours, reservation policies, dress codes, etc. Best to do your homework in advance, then there won’t be any surprises eating up your precious time in Florence.

The Boot

The Boot

One more piece of advice: Don’t go somewhere just because you’ve heard the name.  If you’ve heard of Pompeii but you don’t know (or care) what happened there, then don’t go! The Travel Gods will not thunder down upon you. This is your trip, and the only person you have to please is yourself. Who cares if all the guidebooks say to go there? If you don’t have any interest in a place, don’t waste your time and money on it.

Detto questo (that said), don’t forget to be open-minded too. 

3. How are you getting around? Oh, you’ll just rent a car in downtown Rome (horrible) and go for a toodle up to Tuscany (hilly) then drive over to Venice (islands), maybe through the Alps (scary roads) and swing ’round to the Cinque Terre (carless), zip down to the Amalfi Coast (horrifying roads) and land back in Rome, all in your little Fiat 500.

Will you? And it’ll go well for you?

No, it won’t.

Well, at least, probably not.

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Italian cities and towns are home to many a Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or traffic limited zone. That means you, cruising around in your cinquecento, are going to be collecting a lot of traffic tickets for driving where you’re not allowed to drive. That’s one thing. And they chase you at home with those traffic tickets. (On a recent trip to France, I got two, so I should know!)

Now add the fact that most Italian cars are equipped with a manual transmission (you’ll probably pay a premium for an automatic), and are much smaller than our North American counterparts, and you’ve got a couple little speed bumps that you weren’t really counting on. I’ve seen families have to change their rental cars because all of their heaps of luggage doesn’t fit. People stall out in parking garages and roll down those rolling hills of Tuscany because they thought they could easily master driving a manual car in one go. And forget parking – it’s like an Olympic sport in Italy. You won’t get a spot close to where you need to be, and many hotels in city centres don’t have parking because of the blasted ZTL.

Loaded with luggage

Loaded with luggage

Solution? If you’re going from major city to major city, use the train. Italy is much better connected than Canada (and I assume the US) when it comes to trains, both high speed and milk run. They often come right into the centre of town (where you’ll likely be staying) and can be fairly comfortable. A car in any major city centre (and some smaller ones too) will only cause you extra headaches. I promise.

That said, there are some parts of Italy (the extreme south) that are just better visited with a car. I understand that. It will just take more planning on your part to make sure you don’t run into (m)any disasters.

La Stazione, Milano

La Stazione, Milano

4. How fast are you moving? My dear friend and I did a whirlwind 6-city-8-day trip around Italy a few years ago. Even though we were in our early twenties, hitting up beaches and taking the train, it was exhausting.

I advise you to take it easy and add in lots of leeway for things to go wrong (which they almost always do in Italy). Trains don’t run on time, reservation times are really just a suggestion, you will get lost in Siena’s labyrinthine streets and a disgruntled Venetian waiter will point you in the wrong direction when you’re lugging your suitcases around in the blazing July heat. (More about that later).

Travel guru Rick Steves always says to plan your trip as if you’re sure you’ll be back so as not to pack your schedule too tight. That way you can have the time you want to do some of the things you want (not all), but you’ll do them well and be satisfied with the experience. The last thing you want is to have a meltdown at a museum because the long line means you’re running 20 minutes behind your colour-coded schedule.

Additionally, try to minimize your one-night stops in places, and mix in easy days of staying in town with longer days of side-trips and excursions. Plan time just to walk around, nap (there’s no shame in it) or just lounge around reading a book and sipping prosecco. This is all part of the Italian experience too!

5. What’s your budget? I’m all for thrifty travel, but penny-pinching has its downsides too. High-rollin’ it all the way around The Boot might not be your best option, either. The moral of the story? Be realistic about your budget expectations. With the Internet, information about what pretty much everything costs is at your fingertips. Again, do your research so you won’t have too many surprises. You can find meals, accommodation, transportation and things to do in just about every price range, if you dig around a little.

A final word to the wise about money: If you’ve gone all the way to Italy, do the things you need to do (and therefore spend the money you need to spend) to enjoy it. It’d be mighty disappointing to want to climb the cupola of St. Peter’s in Rome but not do it because you think it costs too much.