I’ve been travelling in India for the past month, happy to have published this portrait of a man I met while walking around Agra, India.
I recently visited my 50th country (Romania) during my recent trip to Eastern Europe.
When I first started solo travelling roughly six years ago), I didn't imagine it would take so long to get to 50 countries. That is roughly eight countries a year, which doesn't seem like a lot but sometimes you get to a place and you love it so much you need to visit it thoroughly, from North to South, because usually every region is very different.
Do I plan to visit all 195 countries now that I've been to over a quarter of them? Maybe. Certainly a few people have done it. But most people will live their lives not even seeing 25% of the impressively awe-inspiring world we are on.
It's true. Travelling is not always easy. You have to plan where you want to go, take time off from work, save up some money, book tickets and accommodation and plan out an itinerary.
However, I've found that as I've been to more places with more miles under my feet, that like most skills, travelling does get easier. In 2014 when I first went to Morocco by myself, I was overwhelmed by their aggressive culture that preyed on tourists. I was not used to having a local follow me around (for hours) and ask for money. This time, four years later, the locals didn't stop following me around, but I was more confident. After four years of travelling experience, I was better at asserting myself and telling people to leave me alone when I felt uncomfortable. I sought out interactions with locals where I felt safe - authentic experiences which didn't involve any monetary exchange. I am better at reading situations now and this helps as a photographer carrying thousands of dollars in camera gear (and as a regular traveller) - being able to spot danger and when you need to leave a situation.
I'm not done with my travels though, here's to the next 50 countries. Thanks for joining me on this journey. :)
Here's a compilation of the highlights of my travelling so far:
Of all of the lives I've led so far, currently, this is the strangest one.
Three weeks ago, I landed in Bangkok to backpack around South East Asia and to see first-hand what it's like to be here. After travelling around the island of Koh Chang, then Tonsai, and Ao Nang; I took a ferry to where I am now: the island of Koh Phi Phi. Originally, I was led here based on the good things I've heard about this island; it being on many of the "most beautiful island" lists of travel publications around the world and also being mentioned in glowing terms in casual conversations with other travellers. Yet initially, the charm of this island escaped me as I had seen so many stunning beaches in the last couple of days that one more picturesque beach didn't quite knock me over the way I see it affects some of the tourists who freshly disembark from the daily ferry boat to this island. But that was all about to change. Something else would grab me.
Three nights ago, I went out to the bars with a bunch of other travellers and I ended up chatting with the expat owner of one the bars on the island and he offered me a job at the bar, which I happily accepted because: why not? I've always wanted to be a bartender.
Now, my days consist of waking up to a beach view, going for tea and breakfast, doing some reading, writing and photography, taking lunch and dinner; then getting ready for work.
The work is not overwhelmingly good or bad, just vastly different. I went from doing public relations for the government to bar relations with my customers.
The secret of a good bartender, as I have learned, not only involves creating tasty and presentable drinks, but also involves making it look effortless while creating said drinks and chatting with the bar patrons. To get to "exceptional level", one must make creating drinks look fun and entertaining; and also innovate new drinks at the bar.
It's a good and fun life here on Koh Phi Phi. My biggest problem here so far was when my favourite breakfast place ran out of ripe bananas so I couldn't eat the Thai Nutella Banana pancake I usually ordered. I spend the day tanning at the beach while reading or going scuba diving. And because the island is fairly small, I've started bumping into friends and acquaintances when I make my way around town. It's nice to be able to say hi to familiar faces, even if I barely know them. I've also started "visiting" friends. This is a new habit for me because when I was in Toronto, I lived so far from everyone I know, that a visit can take up to half an hour to drive. And most times, friends are out. Here, everyone more or less has a predictable schedule and I can drop by in a ten minute walk for a quick chat or a long sunset watching session.
It's very easy to get swept up into the lifestyle and never leave. Most of the bar staff I work with, initially started off as travellers like me. Now, some of them have been living on this island for two years, tanning away their days. In a way, Koh Phi Phi is a small town paradise. Almost everything you need for a happy existence can be found here. There is a good community, plenty of sunshine, a good work/life balance, cheap living, and love, if you look for it. The challenge is giving yourself the push to drop out of this easy comfort and eventually adventure off the island. Because there is so much more out there in the world.
I began January 2015 in San Diego, California, a place where I realized I was at the happiest in my 20’s. It was a big gamble to go to California for a month at this time because though I knew I needed a break from the Winter in Canada, I still wanted and needed to hold on to my job in Montreal and also I needed to watch my budget. However, the sunshine, break and change of lifestyle was exactly what I needed to refresh myself to get ready for the rest of 2015.
San Diego also taught me a lot about myself and my resiliency, as the second day of my stay there, my wallet mysteriously disappeared. 2015 was a year of great breakthroughs, adventure and double-takes. I got published for the first time in the Toronto Star and made it to Canadian Press’ freelance photographer’s list. I spent a grand total of 59 days this year on the road when I wasn’t in Toronto or Montreal. There were so many good times and laughter, but also a few tough moments, which is where the learning comes in.
This is what I learned in 2015:
1. How to say no to things
Learning to say ‘no’ to multiple projects or people was one of the most difficult things I learned to do this year. It felt odd and there was a tension within myself. But to make room for bigger and better things, sometimes you just have to say no to projects that don’t pay enough or people who don’t respect your time or situations that drain you emotionally. Because I said no to some projects and contracts, I was able to say yes to spontaneous road trips, shooting for McDonald's Canada and shooting for Frito-Lay.
2. Take things slow.
This is your life, enjoy it. As much as you’re supposed to work hard and constantly better yourself (growing up in hyper-competitive Toronto, working hard is ingrained into you), sometimes you just need to relax. After living for a year in Montreal (I moved back to Toronto this summer), I learned to adopt the carefree French attitude of enjoying life’s pleasures. Every weekend, my routine included a leisurely brunch with friends followed by tanning and reading in the park. What is the point of life if you don’t get to enjoy the beautiful moments? I once knew a guy who was hardworking and had a great job and a great salary and a great apartment, but he spent so much of his youth working, he didn't have time to develop his relationships or even go out and now in his late 20's he doesn't have anyone to enjoy his life with and even worse, his social skills are so rusty, he is having trouble finding people to spend time with him. Anyway, the point of this message is: you don't have to be working hard all the time and you should keep a balance in your life.
3. Visualize the bigger picture.
Early on in my photography/writing career I did work for free and I also devoted a large amount of time developing my own blog (which was a labour of love) but with every photo I took and every blog post I wrote, I slowly got better at what I was doing and all my work became my portfolio and ended up getting me into the door of some bigger companies. I made huge strides (Toronto Star, Canadian Press) in my freelance career this year because of all that experience. You give some away, and you get some more. Don’t get discouraged if early on in your career you have to give away some (or all) of your work for free; all of it is coming back to you in experience, just remember to look at the bigger picture.
4. How to tell the client they are wrong (respectfully and politely).
Sometimes you can do all the work the client asked for, the way they asked for it, sometimes doing it several times over and still the client isn’t happy for whatever reason. This is not your fault. Early on in our lives, we learn to make people happy, whether it is our teachers or parents; by meeting their expectations in whatever way they expect from you; or at your first job where you’re told the customer is always right. Yet as you get more life experience, you realize that some people just can't be pleased, and sometimes the customer is just an unhappy person and that has nothing to do with you. The solution to this is to surround yourself with a network of other freelancers who will give you support and encouragement.
5. How to live with little to none (this is especially useful for a freelancer)
As I mentioned earlier, this year in January, my wallet went missing on my second day in San Diego and I had to live with no money for a whole four days before my credit card, which was express-shipped, arrived in California. Through this experience (literally one of my worst fears while travelling), I learned just how little I could live with and still survive and have fun - sort of like how Evey in V For Vendetta, toughens up at the end when V put her through all that crap. The truth is, many of us have all of these built-up fears of “what if”s, but when things actually happen, we cope better than we think we can. Through the experience, I ate a lot of bread, and grumbled about being hungry, but a lot of people live with much worse. Also, a majority of people think they need a lot of money to have a great life (according to a study, after a certain point, money won't make you happier), but really it’s all about attitude, which brings me to the next point.
6. Money is just something that can be made again (spend on people you love). Earlier this year, after making a transition from working at a full-time job to being a freelance photojournalist, I lived minimally for a while – rarely going out or having dinners at restaurants. Then in March, someone I met started taking me out a bunch, spending a lot of cash on food and drinks. When I asked him why he was doing all of this, he said "money is something you can make again", which I understand more now. At the end of your life, it's much better to have memories made with people, facilitated by money, than to die with a pile of money and no fond memories.
7. Be patient, and wait for your moment. Earlier this year, as a newly hired contractor for a project, things at the company shifted and suddenly there was a lot more than the team could handle. It was brought up in a team meeting that there was a need for a writer who could take on a couple more assignments each week. As the new person, I wanted to jump in and show initiative, yet somehow I knew this wasn’t the right opportunity for me as I knew I wanted to focus more on my photography. There was a tension in my chest as I held my tongue and didn't volunteer - they had to hire someone else, but in the end I was glad I didn't jump in as a few weeks later, there was a need for someone with video skills, which is much closer to photography than writing. The lesson to come away with is to wait for your moment. This is true for everything else in life, if something doesn't feel right don’t feel pressured to jump into a business opportunity, buying a property or a marriage, because if it’s truly right for you, it will come again. You just need to have faith!
8. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t ask. Earlier this Fall, I missed my flight home from Istanbul to Toronto because there was this thing called Passport Control where before you even enter security to board your flight, you have to get in this big line where it’s a pre-screen. In my entire life of catching planes and travelling, I’ve only ever missed one flight, so I didn’t accommodate for this extra two hours of waiting before boarding. In Toronto (and other airports around the world), if you’re about to miss your flight, there are airport employees who can push you through the lines so that you don’t miss your flight, but no such thing existed in Turkey. You are on your own in this country. Anyway, as I was about to miss my flight because I was in this line, I started asking people if I could skip ahead of them. I found that many people are surprisingly accommodating if you tell them you’re about to miss your flight and will let you go ahead of them, no questions asked. Unfortunately, I did this near the end of my wait, and still ended up missing last boarding call by 10 minutes. But now I’m less hesitant about asking for things, even from strangers.
9. Photography is not real. I knew this before, but I understand more of the depth of it now. I don't mean obvious things like photoshopping pigs in the sky, but rather things like how lighting can make a picture dramatically different. Through a lot of varied photography jobs this year, where I had to make products or people look good, I learned just how much work goes into lighting or waiting for that one key moment to get a frame. There was this local politician I saw quite often day-to-day professionally, who wasn’t the best looking guy out there in the world – but that’s okay, not everyone needs to be Brad Pitt. But in a photo I saw of him, this photographer managed to make him look attractive, even slightly appealing (with no photo alterations, just good use of lighting!). This is the power of photography. Hire the best photographers you can, it's worth it! :)
10. The gifts you receive aren’t really because you deserve them but because the people you know are AWESOME, big-hearted and generous. This year, I’ve been blessed by so many delicious treats, great meals and fantastic experiences. A lot of it was the plain luck of having the right people in my life or meeting the right people (like when I met my friend Alek who gave me an unforgettable motorcycle ride through San Francisco up to Hawk Hill, with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge), but then there are the times when you try to give back to people who gave to you first and they end up giving you even more. And then there are things you receive which you just can't ever repay (like photography advice that ends with you getting published in Rock and Ice), so you just learn to be grateful and try to give back to the world in some other way. What I am trying to say here is that I'm really grateful for everyone who has contributed in some way to my life this year, so thank you.
*Bonus*: Always consider opportunity cost! This year, I found a cheap flight from Oslo, Norway to Crete, Greece. It was $53, what a steal! But what I didn't consider was that the flight time, 6 am, meant that I wouldn't sleep all night and would arrive to Greece sleep-deprived and cranky. It also cost $53 for the bus to the further airport in Oslo that this flight operated from. So if you see something that looks like a good deal, always consider the other factors.
Here's to an even more awesome 2016! Stay adventurous!
Read 'Things I learned in 2014'
We stumbled into a New York rollerblading group called I Roll NY and watched a competition for a while.
Then, we found a Christmas Market and all these European Christmas Market memories came flooding back.
Of course, there were key differences between the New York City Christmas market and the European Christmas markets - the main one being the food focus of European markets and the artisan focus of this one.
The next morning, we started our hunt for breakfast and by chance came upon Eataly, a gourmet Italian food market by Madison Square Park.
I first heard about this market by its recent cookbook being featured in all the bookstores in Canada. To all the marketers out there: writing a book with beautiful pictures is an awesome way for self-promotion.
We consumed all the pastries with our eyes, but eventually settled for a sit-down meal of fresh pasta.
I enjoyed my meal of tagliatelle with short rib ragout very much.
Next, we headed to Chelsea Market, which might be my favourite place in New York City.
There's an incredible contemporary artisan vibe at Chelsea Market. The place is made up of exposed brick walls and beams, but finished with crisp glass windows and design-driven typography. It seems like an ideal place to spend a morning with friends, eating your way around the different stalls and restaurants.
After a quick tour around the market, we made our way to the High Line, a pedestrian-only structure above the city that allows visitors to view the city without traffic or bike interruption.
The High Line used to be a means of transport for goods throughout New York, but when the trucking industry gained popularity in 1980, they shut it down and turned it into a walking path instead. While they were redeveloping the neighbourhood, it became trendy and new apartments were built along the way.
There are park benches, picnic tables and a million different places to view the sunset - which is exactly what we did.
As night settled in, we rushed to Hammerstein Ballroom to see the concert which had brought us to New York. If you squint, you can see me in the second row of the floor on the left side of this photo taken from Ryan Adams' twitter.
Maybe New York and I started on a unfavourable terms this time around because it was frigid and I was already thinking of going some place warmer.
Nevertheless, I was drawn back to this big city to see if I felt the same after so many years. I first visited the big city when I was 15 over winter break with my mom. It was mostly a shopping trip. At 15, I was impressed by the big buildings, flashing advertisements and all the bright lights. There were also American and international brands in New York that I saw in magazines which I couldn't buy in Toronto.
When I got back to Toronto with my luggage full of new clothes, friends and classmates would compliment me on my finds. New York was cool simply because it wasn't available in Toronto. Now that I've taken up minimalism, New York isn't as exciting anymore.
Regardless, I still found things to do. Breakfast first of course, at Clinton Street Baking Co.
Then I had a stroll around Manhattan.
I spent most of my time in New York in museums, but also wandered into some shops. Some of the merchandizing in the stores here is absolutely incredible, comparable to art galleries; and the best part is that it's free to see.
Check out this cool, curved building.
Later in the night, I headed over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).
In between all of this, I took a few subway rides during rush hour. I have to tell you this story of how I squeezed myself into a packed subway car and my bag was sticking out of the door so the door wouldn't close, but I didn't know it was because of me. And this bloke said "Miss, you're holding all of us up." And I thought this bloke was so rude because of his tone when he told me, but it's probably just what New York is usually like.
I was in Montreal last summer and someone threw away all my unopened food that was labeled in the communal fridge of the hostel I was staying at, and I was pretty ruffled because I didn't get an apology from the front desk staff. Some guy asked if I was from New York because of my attitude.
I'm visiting New York City again next weekend. This time, I'm hoping to spend time in jazz clubs and visit neighbourhoods such as Greenwich Village, West Village and walk the HighLine. Maybe my opinion of New York City will change. I guess we'll see...
Sometimes, I feel like I could stay in Paris forever because of the cute little shops and well-taken-care-of buildings, but with that comes a certain feeling of coldness in not quite fitting in with the locals because of a) the language barrier and b) the Parisian snob stereotype is sometimes true.
Despite that, I think anyone can appreciate the many years of history and the culture developed in this old city.
We wandered around the area for a bit, then hopped on our bikes and went north to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur. They filmed Angels and Demons and also Amelie in this area, so it was strange feeling to be in places where I thought I had been before but hadn't really.
I spent two weeks in Paris practicing my French, getting ignored by the French, then eventually taking a bus to Brussels.
Actually, the story is a little longer than that. Let me explain.
I love the smaller streets, the smell of fresh pastry wafting through the air, being able to find a specialty cheese shop on almost every corner and of course, all the rich history that seems to swallow you into its world. You simply can't be in a place like Paris and not imagine all the generations that have lived on these same streets.
But of course, a walk through Paris though beautiful, is sometimes lonely when you're only one. Parisians have a reputation of being snobs, which I found out unfortunately is mostly true.
There was an incident when I was trying to ask questions in French at a post office, and when my French vocabulary wasn't strong enough to get my question across, the clerk, who was in her late twenties, just ignored me and went back to reading her book. It wasn't until I was rescued by another customer who spoke both English and French that I got the answer I needed.
If you want to learn about customer service, don't go to Paris.
Anyway, I digress. Please don't let me stop you from going to Paris because of that one incident, in fact, I recommend going just to see what it's all about. I actually met a very funny and nice Parisian man in my third go-around to Paris, so no not everyone is a snob.
One of the reasons I love Paris so much is because it has so much art and culture, not to mention history. Like a difficult novel, you may not like it, but it's good for you, just so you know what it's like, so you can be informed and have an legitimate opinion on it.
You may have noticed I haven't mentioned shopping yet.
Well, I'm getting there. Keep in mind, these photos are only representative of the first few days I spent in Paris.
I mostly gravitated towards food on the first couple of days, which by the way, Parisian grocery stores have the best selection of brie. It's less than two euros for a whole block of cheese! In Canadian dollars, that's around $3. In Canada, good cheese starts from around $6, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered cheap good cheese in the grocery stores.
Dining out was slightly more expensive than back home, but I still went out a couple of times just to see what it was like. Disclaimer: I also gained a couple of pounds specifically from Paris, I think. I am blaming the croissants, but they are the most delicious thing in the world when they are still hot from the oven so I have no regrets.
I will be posting more photos from Paris as I edit them in the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy them!
Here is a closer look:
The zipline tower was set in between the two City Hall buildings so that all the office workers could watch you having fun vicariously while they did their work.
Here is what the top of the structure looked like:
A photo of my cousin and I: Notice how we look somewhat tense, well I do at least.
I mean I've done ziplining before, but this was a much longer line, being that it was the length of a football field (which is why it was set up for the Grey Cup).
Below is a photo taken right before we were told to just "walk into the air".
Toronto is actually quite a pretty city at night with all its lit up buildings.
And here we go:
The twenty or so seconds we were in the air whizzing across City Hall felt amazing. The view was great too. It was as if I turned into a bird. The cold air brushed against my face and adrenaline pumped in my veins. I forgot all about my looming exams and emails I had to send and lived in the moment.
Seeing the city from a different perspective is always exciting I suppose.
Toronto is a lovely that holds random events throughout the year, which is why it's great living here. I've been blessed with many opportunities just by proximity.