Photos: San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and Hawk Hill by Jessica Lee

If there’s one thing you should do in San Francisco, California, I would recommend speeding up and down the hills of the city on a motorcycle, then going by the same way to see the Golden Gate Bridge. 

That’s exactly what my friend Alek and I did when I was there earlier this year. Alek took me on a journey across the Golden Gate bridge to Hawk Hill where we observed the view from above. 

The sensation of wind brushing past you as your adrenaline races, combined with blue skies, vast green hills and the change in scenery, and not least, the putter and hum of the motor engine underneath you; is more than enough to produce a wide grin from ear to ear underneath your motorcycle helmet; while you wonder what good thing you did in your life to deserve this amazing experience.

Photos: Climbing in Mont Orford, Magog and Sherbrooke ...and Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee

Now that it's pretty much summer, I felt it would be appropriate to finally put these photos up from last fall.

My friend Olivier who lives in Washington D.C. got a few days off work and drove home to visit his family in Magog, Quebec, for Canadian Thanksgiving. Along the way, he picked me up from Montreal.

Upon hiking into the forest, we came upon a French family with small children, pointing at a tree. They had spotted a porcupine.

I've never come across a porcupine in person before, but from this experience, I can tell you that they are very slow-moving, and relatively easy to photograph because of this. You just have to make sure to get them to face the camera.

We spent the rest of the day bouldering in the area, then packed up and headed to explore Magog.

We did a quick walk-through of Magog, then headed in for the night.

To be honest, I don't think I would ever visit Magog or Sherbrooke on my own if not for Olivier.

Both are charming little towns great for raising families, and if you'd like slower pace of life. What really struck me though, was meeting and being welcomed in by Olivier's family, and listening to their stories of living on a farm, being in the country and harvesting maple syrup (they own a few acres of sugar bushes). We ate turkey with all the trimmings, and I listened to the struggles of living on a farm from Olivier's brother and sister-in-law. This is stuff people pay for when they go on cabane a sucre tours, but here I was, getting to experience all of this just because I was a friend.

I think the most endearing thing to me was how Olivier's brother explained to his young children (under five) where the turkey came from. It was one of the turkeys on the farm and the children noticed the day before that one of the turkeys had gone missing. The children were the cutest things in the world when they played and it broke my heart that Olivier was working away in another city while his niece and nephew were growing up.

I should explain how I first met Olivier. We met when I couchsurfed in his home in Washington D.C. with another friend in the summer.

Many people are averse to welcoming strangers into their home and also staying in a stranger's house, but by being open, I got to experience this weekend in Magog and Sherbrooke; and also gained a new friend.

The next day, we woke up early to go canoeing, a popular outdoor Canadian pastime.

We spotted more wild life including a crane, which we followed around the lake while I took photos.

The weekend ended and Olivier had to go back to work in Washington. He offered to host me again in Washington D.C., and because I can't seem to turn down road trip offers, I went along for the 9 hour drive.

This brief trip gave me sunshine and the opportunity to finish browsing museums I didn't have enough time for the first time around.

San Diego: Unexpectedly, my vacation takes a turn for the worse by Jessica Lee

I was recently published in the Toronto Star, the paper I grew up reading.

SAN DIEGO — Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t worry! I’m fine. I’m in a new city, know absolutely no one, just lost my wallet, but it’s going to be okay. I landed in San Diego, in search of sunny relief from the grey Toronto winters. I’d arranged with my employer I would work remotely for a few weeks and even found someone to sublet my room. I thought I had it all figured out.
My wallet went missing the first day. All my identification, credit cards, $300 in cash and gift cards. Gone! I had no money to live on, no access to cash, and, as a young solo traveller, visiting California against my family’s wishes, the last thing I wanted was to have my mom bail me out of trouble, all the while saying: “I told you so.”
I needed to prove, myself. Almost half the world lives on less than $2 a day, according to the U.N., and so could I.
I had half a burrito leftover from lunch, so that took care of dinner that night. I also had a place to stay. I had paid for a night’s stay at a youth backpacker’s hostel the day before and arranged with the hostel to continue to live there in exchange for doing light chores every day.
But what was I going to do with no money in San Diego?
“At least the beach and sunshine are still free, right?” said my friend Kris from back home.
The next morning, I ate a free hostel breakfast of pancakes, fruit and bread; then stashed more bread from the buffet in my backpack for lunch. I spent my day in touristy Embarcadero, walking past enticing aromas of pizzas, bakeries and waffle cones, and staring glumly at tourists inside museums I couldn’t visit. It’s one thing to travel frugally and to decide not to visit an attraction, but it’s entirely different when you have no choice. I kept hoping my wallet would magically reappear.
That night, the hostel held a “Free Spaghetti and Salad Night.” I had survived two days with no money.The next day, I grew restless. The weather was perfect for the beach. The problem was distance. I didn’t mind walking, but two hours and a half of sweating on a dusty highway to get there would be pushing it. Wasn’t a beach day for relaxing?
I dug up all my loose change and had $2.30, enough for a one-way bus to Coronado Island. I wasn’t sure how I would return, but being stranded on a beach was better than feeling sorry for myself. Besides, you need money to enjoy bars and cafés downtown.
Once again, I packed bread from breakfast for later and got on the bus. The ride on the bridge above the ocean was incredible. White ships glided over a huge expanse of water, and mountains loomed in the distant background. But I was worried. I had three more weeks in San Diego.
I thought about dumpster-diving, busking for change, and asking restaurants for their surplus food. The night before, I scoured Craigslist for odd cash-paying jobs and posted an ad for freelance photography. I was irritable from hunger and wasn’t sure I could continue much longer.
We got to the beach and I leapt with joy; palm trees, sand, and a stretch of blue horizon greeted me. I tanned away my anxieties.
At lunch, I accidentally ate more bread than I intended and now had no more food for the rest of the day. It wasn’t even 4 p.m.! I wasn’t very good at rationing. But I had other worries; I had to get back to the hostel.
I thought about hitchhiking, but walked to the bus stop. Desperate, I asked a stranger for change. He had a dollar, which wasn’t enough, but I explained my lost wallet to the driver and was allowed on the bus.
That night was horrible. I was starving and surrounded by smells of food made by guests at the hostel, but I hadn’t made friends and didn’t want to impose on anyone. I brought up my wallet went missing ,but no one understood I literally had no money for groceries.
The next morning, I knew I had to make moves to improve my circumstances. I called my consulate, but the office wasn’t open until 10 a.m., and it was in Los Angeles.
Reluctantly, I packed another lunch and dinner of bread.
Then a miracle happened.
A package arrived for me at the front desk. It was my new credit card, express-shipped from Canada! Never has plastic looked so good. Everything would be fine.

I met Holden Caulfield in Montreal by Jessica Lee

I met Jack, 17, in Montreal, at a hostel party. He's originally from England, but left home at 15 and has been travelling around for a while. He had such an interesting story, I had to ask him for an interview. He is an idealistic, young Holden Caulfield-type who actually did what most of us wanted to do, but were too scared to do - and he's doing fine at it. 

Keep reading to see why he amazes me.


You left home when you were 15. Why and what have you been doing?

Well the reason why is kind of strange I think. I never wanted to travel my entire life but when I was 13 or 14, my mom told me we were going to live in California with my adoptive grandparents and we were really excited. I told all my friends ‘I’m going to live in California, it’s going to be amazing.’ And then one day she was like ‘Actually, it’s really hard to move to that country, let’s just move to Scotland instead.’ And I hated Scotland. So she moved my entire life, you know, I left all my friends behind. I didn’t know anybody. And she moved me to the shittiest place in the world. The second I was free I was like ‘I have to get out of here.’ I looked at the cheapest flights I could find and Cyprus was only 45 pounds, leaving in a week’s time. So I bought the ticket without telling my mom or dad and I started packing my things. And then two days before, I sat at the kitchen table and was like ‘Hey, can someone give me a lift to the airport tomorrow?’ ‘What? Why?’ ‘I just booked a flight to Cyprus.’ And then I told them what my plan was. And then I got to Cyprus, found a job at a meditation centre. I would assist classes and was a receptionist for a while and I did a lot of design work for them too. And after working there, that gave me enough money to travel the rest of Europe. I did all of Turkey with a girl – that’s a whole other story – we travelled together, and then I went to Bulgaria but didn’t like it, so we caught a flight from Istanbul to Portugal and we lived in Lagos for a bit, and then Spain. And then came back to England. Yeah, I came back to England for a month and she came back home to Canada and I did all of France, then I came here.

So that all happened when you were 15.

Yeah. I turned 16 in Cyprus, and when I turned 17, I was in Seville, Spain. And when I turn 18, I’ll be in Mexico.

How do your parents feel about all of this?

I think at first they were a bit confused. They were like ‘why is he going there on his own? Why isn’t he looking to do college courses?’ And they thought I was throwing away my life, you know? I always had aspirations to become a lawyer, in my mom’s footsteps. I had always been a perfect kid, like my entire life. I was exactly what they wanted and then one day I was just like ‘fuck that, I’m leaving now.’ And that really surprised them and my dad didn’t talk to me for a long time. My sister used to bitch about me to my grandparents. The whole family just sort of kicked me out, other than my mother. But I came back, I was living there for a month and everything seemed to be alright. They seemed to know I was going through some stuff at the moment and this is how I’m dealing with it. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. There’s this whole back story to it and I feel like I’m saying the front of it, if you know what I mean. …they don’t like it, is what I’m trying to say. They don’t like it.

But you’re supporting yourself and you’re managing.

I think also they had a massive problem with me being with somebody older than me for most of my trip because they felt that she was taking advantage of me the entire time, just cause she was older. But it was a mutual relationship. But my mother worried because of that. She was like ‘what’s this weird 24 year old woman doing, taking my son around Europe?’

And you met your girlfriend at the time in Cyprus?

Yeah, a little town called Latchi, just outside of Cyprus. We worked in the same place and she got arrested accidentally. You know what Workaway is? She was over there on Workaway and she was volunteering. And someone saw a Canadian was working there without a VISA so they called immigration up and they arrested every single American, every single Australian in that place and took them to jail. And from that point on, they weren’t allowed to volunteer in Cyprus anymore. So she was like ‘I’ve nowhere to go’, but I was like ‘I’ve got an apartment, I’ve got a car, I’ve got food. I’ve got everything.’ So she just moved in with me. And we all lived in this apartment building and it was a crazy experience. Everything fell into place, you know? It was perfect.

Most kids your age, at 17, they’re just about to enter college, and they haven’t quite figured out how the world works yet, or how to take care of themselves but you’ve been on your own all this time. You seem to have everything figured out.

Maybe. Well I think a lot more than having a career or going to college is happiness, and that was probably one of the main reasons I left in the first place. In Scotland, I could have gotten a great uni[versity] degree and carried on with my life, but I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to throw this away just so I can have money’. ‘Cause I look at my dad and he has a lot of money and I look at my mom and she has a lot of money but constantly they’re stressed out and never happy; so I figured by travelling, it’ll give me some time to think, you know? ‘What do I really want?’ Instead of living up to society’s expectations, and that’s when I started getting into yoga, and that sort of opened up my mind to ‘you can live on the beach with no money and be ten times happier than somebody who owns half the world'. A lot of people will sort of hold a lot of negativity over life in general. They wake up in the morning and [will] be like ‘Oh, it’s freezing cold, I hate my job’, and all that kind of stuff. But none of it matters. I know this sounds weird to say, but we’re all going to dead soon right? And in the short time, why would you waste it doing something that you don’t want just so you can brag to your friends that you have a house and a kid and a wife who’s good looking? I think in a sense I’ve given up on life.

Like you’ve given up on that sort of life?

I’ve given up chasing something that other people are telling me I should want and chasing what I want personally instead. Like a relationship with a 24 year old woman seemed like the best thing in the entire world to me at the moment and I couldn’t stand England so I came here, which is insane. I had barely any money. It didn’t work out and I knew coming here it wouldn’t work out, but I still knew even if it doesn’t, it’s what I want right now.

You followed a woman to Edmonton but you knew it wouldn’t work out?

Yeah I had a sort of feeling. You know when you’re travelling with someone, you’re in a new city every day. Every person you meet is new to both of you, but when you go to a hometown, that’s her family, her friends who have known her her whole life, and here comes me, I’m an outsider. And I have this thing where I’m not old enough to be drinking with her friends. It was like she was looking after me more than I was looking after her. When we were travelling, I was responsible for her safety, I feel. I figured out where we were going, what we were doing. When she was at home, she didn’t need any of that and there just wasn’t anything between us when that was taken away, which was sad, but there are a lot of differences between a 24 year old and a 17 year old right? So what did I expect?

Going back to the idea of happiness, what are you going to chase in the future? What is your idea of a perfect day or a perfect lifestyle?

I think about it a lot. I believe- although I said earlier that career achievements don’t mean anything, I do believe you can gain some sense of happiness from that happiness. But I prefer to be content instead of short periods of happiness. You know whereas my dad, he might make much money and that will make him happy for a week and then he’ll be miserable again. Like I’d rather just live on a beach in Ecuador with my house I bought for $15,000 and surf every single day and host couchsurfers. I love people, that’s my favourite thing in the world, meeting, talking, getting a sense of their mentality, where they come from, how they were raised, their background. You know it’s like reading a new book every single time, coming across someone new. So I just want to have that new experience. Keep myself busy, with new experiences, new people, with just things I enjoy.

What are you planning to do after Montreal?

On the 24th of February, I fly to Denver, Colorado, and my adoptive Auntie lives there, so I’m going to stay there for a week and a half, and then I’m flying to Los Angeles. And then I’m going to meet my mom and we’re going to hang out for two weeks. And I have plans to go to Mexico with a girl from New York.

I have one last question for you. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned since leaving home?

Just to be humble. That’s the best thing you can possibly do in your entire life. Coming from a rich English background, my entire life is constantly comparing your life to other people’s like ‘my friend Reese got an iPad and iPhone for Christmas and my mom only got me a shitty car’ or something like this. When you let go of all of that, you know what you have and appreciate it. Don’t brag.

"Roaring twenties" - My San Diego existence by Jessica Lee

My existence in San Diego is the closest I've come to what I would like my ideal life to be like in my "roaring twenties".

I start my mornings waking up leisurely at 7:00 am. A switch to west coast time means I'm actually waking up around 10:00 am back home. During this time, I'll send off a few emails and read the daily news while sipping my cup of tea, and take care of whatever tasks that need to be done back home for work. Then I start my job at the hostel around 8:30 am. Replenishing breakfast supplies, saying hi to management, greeting guests, light cleaning. It finishes at noon, and then the day's adventure will start.

A sample of an adventure can be anything from a day trip to La Jolla shores, surfing at Ocean Beach, hiking at Mission Trails or a motorcycle ride up north. One thing in common however, is that the days always end in a beautiful pink sunset, whether on top of a mountain, from a restaurant patio or on a sail boat. I'm greedy about sunsets. I've enjoyed many before, but I can never get enough. I always have to be sitting somewhere with a good view when the time is 5:15 pm.

I guard my time well, but I always make sure to leave room for spontaneous outings. One night we ended up at Pacific Beach, sharing tacos with a Mexican girl and listening to the stories of her huge 500+ family. Another night ended being escorted onto a military base and watching movies in the ridiculously high-end barracks the American Navy lives in (honestly, the apartment I was in was comparable to many of the King West apartments in Toronto - impressive).

Most nights are spent at bars in the Gaslamp District or the hot tub of a neighbouring hotel. On exceptionally good nights, they end in movies at the theatre or dessert at the Cheesecake Factory.

The thing I love about America is its excess. Food here is cheap, so the living is easy. The days are leisurely and the constant sunlight keeps me warm.

I'm not saying the people here don't struggle. But I keep my needs low and find I can get on by quite easily. The taxes are lower and the food portions at restaurants are huge. One meal usually equals three for me. I don't shop (stopped that habit long ago), rarely drink and my only vice is probably eating tacos all the time since the Mexican food here is much better than on the east coast due to the proximity to Mexico.

Regardless, when I look back at San Diego, I know I'll remember it with a smile. I'll think of all the characters I've met, all the moments I've lived and remember it with gratitude. The universe can be quite generous when you open yourself to the world.

San Diego, California: a first look by Jessica Lee

California: where do I even begin?

San Diego is the heaven of my dreams. At least that's the way it seems in January; coming from cold, windy, grey, sometimes snowing Toronto. The only warmth I feel there in the Winter comes from family and friends.

When the cold gets too strong for me, I get on a plane.

"Welcome to beautiful, sunny California," says the pilot as we land. We're off to a good beginning, as I can see bright sunshine from my seat inside the plane.

I feel my first burst of joy as I step into the arrivals gate. Sunlight streams through glass windows and I see blue skies and palm trees. With my luggage on my back, my pants rolled up and sunglasses on, I wait in a spot of sun for the bus that will take me into the city.

I had forgotten what summer felt like.

The bus to from the airport to downtown San Diego is the best introduction to the city possible. Along the coast, it is a sprawling sea of catamarans, boardwalks and beaches, endless ocean blue, until we reach Broadway Avenue. Then it is sidewalks, bars and restaurants in the shining, flashy Gaslamp Quarter, but with an old-time, almost Mexican feel where almost every bar is a cowboy-themed and every restaurant with Hispanic influences.

The people here are real characters, not your usual suburban soccer moms or typical office workers; there are trench-coated, middle-aged folk, leathery-tanned skin, drinking from a patio, or shuffling along the sidewalk. The women wear muted shades of pink or beige and the men are in black. Young California city slickers walk the streets in dark blazers with jeans, everyone wearing sunglasses. A few of the catatonics occasionally wander up to you on the streets and give you a fright.

San Diego is a strange city; but a warm and inviting one. It's easy to stroll along the street in the Gaslamp Quarter and walk up to the harbour, look at all the boats and take in the bustle of the people, the tourists taking photos, the business meetings, afterwork drinks and young nightlife. I would move here in a heart beat, if they would let me.

Hola from San Diego, California! by Jessica Lee

I woke up this morning and frankly I was a little stressed. I couldn't find my cash and I was running late meeting my friend for surfing. I borrowed some money, then headed to Ocean Beach. I caught a few waves, dried off in the sun and now I'm here on Ocean Beach Pier enjoying the view and a lobster taco. It's a Monday.

More on San Diego soon... Stay loose!

What I learned in 2014 by Jessica Lee

It seems like just yesterday I was writing What I Learned in 2013. Time is a slippery and fleeting creature that you just cannot stop or slow.

I started January 2014 in Paris, France, in the middle of my European backpacking trip. After counting down and watching the Eiffel Tower shimmer for a few minutes with thousands of people at Trocadero, I walked home to my rented apartment on Magenta Blvd., amidst joyous French wishing me "Bonne Année!"

2014 was a year filled with adventure, wrong turns, mishaps and bliss. And lots and lots of learning. I was given many fantastic opportunities, got to see spectacular sights in new countries, and I met the most wonderful people in over 25 cities. There were definitely more good moments than bad, and for that I am grateful. Here are some of the most important things I picked up in 2014:

1. There is a lot of beauty in life.
I saw this in landscapes, cityscapes; in every mountain of every train ride I passed through, in all the lakes I've taken in, in the vast desert silence which made me understand how small I am in this world. There is beauty in every heart-stopping piece of literature and I've read, every sunset and patio I enjoyed, in all the beautiful, heart-wrenching goodbyes, free gifts from life, fireworks in the sky, in drunken dance halls and bars where I've shared a pitcher of beer with the awe-inspiring people I've encountered, chance meetings in unexpected places and music that makes your heart swell. Enjoy life, it's marvellous. Be open and let it surprise you.

2. There are many inspiring and big-hearted people with overwhelmingly attractive souls out there. Their energy will pull you towards them. Keep these people close, make them your friends, don't take these people for granted, appreciate them at every moment, draw inspiration from them and give them your time and energy. These people are rare to find, but once you meet one, they multiply because good people tend to hang out with other good people. It might not be entirely obvious at first if you've found someone awesome, but slowly through different situations and time you've spent together, you'll see their character come through, and that's when you know that they are quality and deserve a place in your life.

3. You cannot control what other people do, only how you react to them. Yes there are lovely people out there, but there are also others who will disappoint you, steal from you and lead you into bad situations. There's nothing you can do to change other people if they're not willing to change, you can only alter your attitude and decide to not let them ruin your day. In Rome, a lady attempted to steal from me in a crowded subway, I was shocked initially, but I took it as a learning experience. Later this year, someone whom I initially thought would be a fantastic person, whom I invested time in turned out to be a dud so I put less energy towards that relationship. Ideally, it would be great to know if someone is worth your energy and resources before you give your time to them, but life rarely comes with labels - you win some, you lose some.

4. Be strategic in your professional life and understand timing. One of my work contracts which kept getting renewed previously ended earlier this year due to budget cuts and my poor gauging of the situation. It wasn't my fault the budget was gone, I was doing great work and felt I deserved a more competitive rate, so I asked for it. Unfortunately, I asked at a completely inappropriate time because of a government budget cut and as a result, I lost one part of the contract. The silver lining of this story is that I learned quickly from this- later in the year at another company, I asked for a raise at an appropriate time and got it.

5. Be precise and careful in moments which require it. In January, I bought a cheap plane ticket with RyanAir from Barcelona to Malaga. It was something ridiculous like 25 euros, which is roughly $35, or a night's stay at a hostel in Paris. There were a couple of catches though- they required you to check-in online 24 hours beforehand and print out your ticket. I neglected to do these things and had to pay a 150 euro fine or forfeit my ticket. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I paid the fine to board the plane. It was the worst travel day I have ever had because I also had to spend my night on a cold aluminium bench at the airport, but that is another story. Now I'm more careful about fine print and boarding times; and have since missed only one ride share, which I had no control over because they overbooked.

6. Allow serendipity to play a part in your life, look out for cool opportunities. In Barcelona, I was walking to a café one day and stumbled into a firefighter's protest, which made for some awesome photos, one of which is short-listed in a photo contest. In Quebec City, chance allowed me to attend a free jazz concert. Earlier this summer, I ended up moving to Montreal and having some of the best days of my life because of an acquaintance I met in a tiny bar in Toronto. Most times, the unexpected moments in life are the best, you just have to be open and go with the flow.

7. Spread your joy. I met one of the most lovely people to be around earlier this Spring in Toronto. My friend Dale is a photographer like me and as a result, we spent a lot of time together in coffee shops editing photos. Every time I'm with this guy, he leaves me immensely happier, but it doesn't stop there; he is abundant and genuine in compliments for the baristas as well. It doesn't take a lot of effort to be kind, but it's such a nice thing to have and improves the atmosphere considerably.

8. This world is vast. I've met so many people this year who are different from me, and it amazes me how big some differences are, such as culture and upbringing; yet other things are the same. We all desire connection to other people, we all want our stories to be heard and we all have goals we strive for. 2014 was the year I met desert-dwellers, a bunch of crazy (in a good way) Europeans, unlikely folks in cities you would never expect them to be in; people in all stages of life.

9. Sometimes partying is more "productive" than "work" work. This was a strange lesson for me to learn this year, growing up in business-oriented Toronto, at a study-at-all-hours university, in a competitive swim-or-sink journalism program where no one really had a social life for a few semesters. I started working in the hospitality industry this year, and the way hiring goes here is whether or not someone fits in with the culture of the company influences if they'll be hired more than what they'll say in an interview, or a cover letter. Hospitality is about taking care of people, so naturally it goes that if you're the life of the party and your guests are having a good time, then you are doing a good job. Basically, it's easier to party your way into a job in this industry than interview your way in. The partying is the interview. Of course, it all depends on the industry and the circumstance.

10. There are unlikely heroes everywhere. This is a story I don't like to tell because it shows vulnerability and poor decisions, but it is life and a good lesson because tells me my intuition is all wrong sometimes. One night in Belgium at the beginning of this year, I went out with a group of people I had just met at a hostel. We went drinking at the infamous Delirium Tremens. I got excited at all the fruity beer options and had a little too much to drink too soon. As I fell to the bar floor, I felt one of them supporting me on their shoulders. Because I hadn't recognized their voices yet, I thought it was the guy I had been talking to all night who was really friendly, but as I gained consciousness, I realized it was the quiet guy in the group who I barely talked to, who I initially perceived as closed-off because he gave short answers when we spoke. Nevertheless sometimes your heroes will surprise you. I definitely needed help getting back to my bed that night and two almost-strangers made sure I got there, supported me on their shoulders the entire way, paid for a taxi ride because I couldn't walk, didn't take advantage of me and personally made sure I made it to my bed. It totally could have gone in a different direction and maybe I wouldn't be here writing this now. I am grateful for their kindness, and pay it forward whenever I can. Also, I am now much more responsible with my alcohol and have accepted I cannot match drinks with Europeans.

BONUS: Life is unpredictable, embrace the randomness. A year ago, when I visited the lovely city of Montreal on a work trip and wished to be living here, I didn't know I would be living that dream so soon. The story of how I ended up here began at the end of April in Toronto when I met a dashing gentleman in a dark basement bar (isn't that how all the best stories start?). Many stars had to align for me to move to here, then later on in July, I was going on a camping trip to Quebec and on the way back, I stopped in Montreal for a job interview and didn't even go back to Toronto. I'm glad it happened the way it did. I've lived some of the most turbulent, passion-filled and exciting days of my life this summer in Montreal. I have learned a lot and really appreciate everything this city has to offer. I discovered new interests (mostly 80's music and balcony tanning), developed new skills (coding), learned more about myself and met a lot of people who have opened my mind and taught me so much. I don't know what's in store for me next year, or if I will even be in the same city, but I am open to all possibility. SEE YOU IN 2015! Stay adventurous!

Photos: Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chappelle, Paris by Jessica Lee

I loved Paris but a lot of being there was about trying to hold on to my money. First of all, accommodation is expensive, not quite like New York, but up there; then there are all the temptations of food, cafes, macarons, shopping, museums and monuments. There are several "must-see"s in Paris which include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay and Versailles. The Arc de Triomphe can be seen from the ground, while the churches are stunning, unless you're an architecture, history or art enthusiast, once you've seen a handful of the best, the next couple of cathedrals can be underwhelming. Notre Dame and Sainte-Chappelle are two of the most impressive cathedrals in Paris, and I took a day to take in the intricate beauty and the detailed art. 

New York City round two! by Jessica Lee

This story starts way back in May of this year. Or if you want to be even more specific, it starts in the year 2007, when I was in high school and had just discovered one of my favourite musicians of all time, Butch Walker. You may know his name from his production work with some of the biggest pop musicians of today such as Pink, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, etc.

Anyway, he had a few shows with Ryan Adams in New York City and I was thinking of going.

I had never been the type to travel from city to city just to catch my favourite musicians - the furthest I had travelled for music was from Toronto to London, Ontario. But alas, they weren't playing a show in Montreal and so it was between Toronto (my hometown, at Massey Hall, a venue I had been to countless times) or the more exciting option, New York City.

Sometime between late Summer and Fall, I must have have mentioned to my friend Olivier that I wanted to go to New York City for the concert because he booked a hotel for the weekend and suddenly it was set.

New York City was kind to me this time around. I spent the weekend walking around Manhattan, jetting around the city in taxis (the way locals do it), taking in the Christmas spirit and eating a lot of gourmet food. I recently moved in with two serious rock climbers and everyone's always watching what they're eating, so I decided to take a break weekend in New York.

Our first day in New York, we walked around Lower Manhattan, visiting neighbourhoods the neighbourhoods of Little Italy, Chinatown and NoHo.

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.

We ended our first night at the Village Vanguard, enjoying jazz music in a basement and knocking back some brandy. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do in New York.

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.

It was a good concert, but both Butch and Ryan didn't play my favourite songs! I suppose it doesn't matter too much. The concert was a fantastic and fairly legitimate reason to visit New York and I'm glad I finally caved.

Off a post-concert high, we went to Shake Shack and had our first Shack burgers, then disappeared into the night in the city that never sleeps.

New York, New York by Jessica Lee

Ah New York. The place where people go to chase their American dreams.

I landed in New York at the end of my European tour in February. This was my second time visiting, and though I could see why many fall in love with this city, I knew it just wasn't for me.

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.

I had been craving North American-style pancakes since eating nothing but crepes and pastry in Europe and Morocco (I know, what a difficult life), and these blueberry ones were perfect. I added a side of maple bacon and hot maple butter apple cider, and it was exactly what I needed.

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.

I wandered to Central Park, but it just didn't live up to the hype of what I had been expecting.

Check out this cool, curved building.

And of course, the iconic yellow New York City taxis.

Then, I headed to my first museum of the day, the Guggenheim. I loved the architecture, but the exhibition wasn't really my cup of tea.

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've travelled around the world and dealt with some rough situations, but I'm not sure if I would last a month in the harshness of New York City. Growing up in Toronto, people were pleasant and generally nice to me and so I've developed assumptions that people are kind - which is generally true. I imagine the lifestyle to be either like the movie Inside Llewyn Davis, where I'd be shuffling around in the cold in a thin jacket or like the movie Frances Ha, where I'd be constantly worried if I was going to make the astronomically high rent that month. 

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...

Homelife by Jessica Lee

I recently moved into a flat in Montreal with two guys in their early twenties. We set up a camera one night while prepping for dinner, setting the timer to take a photo every two seconds. The photos tell a simple story, but shows a glimpse of contemporary life of three twenty-somethings, documentary-style. The dynamics and personalities of the house can be universally understood without captions, from troublemaker Çuk, to Julien, whom you barely see in the frame because he's on his feet, busy making dinner.

Washington D.C. Part 2: scenes from the city by Jessica Lee

We started day two in Washington with... you guessed it! Brunch.

Here we are at Founding Farmers, enjoying maple smoked bacon with a side of eggs benny.

We look ecstatic about our food because after waiting for almost two hours, we finally got to eat. Apparently, there's always a line-up at Founding Farmers.

Afterward our brunch which ended at around 2 pm, we walked through the National Mall and the Air and Space Museum.

It's always exciting walking through new places because you get to see everything with a fresh eye. We hit the Air and Space Museum, Newseum, and National Portrait Gallery. There are also two photos of Starbucks in unusually beautiful buildings, which is a contrast to the Starbucks I'm used to seeing at home. Anyway, enjoy the photos.

My best ride share experience and visiting a kennel in Quebec City by Jessica Lee

Last night was one of the luckiest nights of my life. 

My day started in a rush, as I had to quickly get myself ready for a day trip from Montreal to Quebec City. My friend Carole had this idea of living this winter in Northern Quebec, working as a husky sledding guide and I became intrigued. I went along for the job interview to satiate my curiosity.

After a lunch of poutine, the owner, Pascal, picked us up from Laurier Mall. We got into his pick-up truck which had an awful, muggy stench of dogs. Our noses soon acclimatized and I tried to follow the conversation while Carole and Pascal chatted in French.

We drove for about 15 minutes, then arrived at the kennel. We were greeted by the loud barking of 250+  dogs who were also jumping up and down, excited at seeing us. They were tied up to their posts row by row on a wide stretch of land.

After a brief tour, we were led into the staff's quarters where I experienced my first job interview almost entirely in French. While I had some trouble understanding some parts of the interview, I had no trouble understanding how hard we would be working if we decided to do the job.

Basically, you wake up each morning, chop up several pig or chicken carcasses with an axe to feed to the dogs, then you prepare the sleds by attaching the dogs to their places. It's a lot of physical work. You also do this job in subzero temperatures, in a smelly area, at minimal pay. But it's a cool experience, and would be perfect for dog lovers. 

I decided that it was more of Carole's dream and not quite mine, but I am glad I went to scope it out. I wasn't feeling very Chris McCandless that day.

After the kennel, we were driven back to Quebec City by one of the employees. It was almost 5 pm at that point. Carole had arranged a rideshare that left Quebec City at 7 pm, while I arranged mine for 11 pm because I wanted to spend some more time in Quebec City.

We had been driven to the proposed rideshare point, which is on Laurier Boulevard, but if you know Quebec City, you will know that Laurier Boulevard is just a strip of commercialized malls. There really isn't anything "cultural" or Quebec City-specific. The picturesque attractions of Quebec City are about a 18 minute car ride away, or an hour and a half walk away.

Here is where I made the best decision I made that day. Originally, since I was already in the rideshare meeting place (Laurier), I was going to spend the rest of my 6 hours in Quebec City on Laurier Boulevard, at a La Presse cafe, reading. It was cold and I wasn't going to be bothered walking an hour and a half and then back to the Old City (where the tourist attractions and beautiful buildings were). I had already been there this past summer with friends, and many times before. I had convinced myself I would be perfectly happy being in a coffee shop.

But then a bus drove right to where I was standing, and I just got on with everyone else. $2.60 later, and I was in the Old City, wandering around the old buildings and cute streets.

I found a cute diner and had my dinner in a booth, looking out into the street and remembering how just a few months earlier, I was here with friends and we were doing completely different things.

I was completely content at that point, walking to the Chateau Frontenac on quiet streets, street lamps glowing, gazing out to the water where a passenger ship was taking a party down the river. 

Then I got a text from my rideshare and the night got even better. 

Like most people from Quebec, my rideshare, Alex, was French, so he texted me in French. I thought I understood what he was saying, but actually it was an even better surprise.

Alex wrote that he was "en concert" at "petit champlain", so that he might be late to our agreed meeting location, which was Laurier Boulevard. I thought he was attending a rock concert with his friends, so I said "Ok, no problem." 

Earlier that day, my first rideshare told me his favourite part of Quebec City was Le Petit Champlain, so I was hoping to visit Le Petit Champain anyway. I asked Alex if I could meet him in Le Petit Champlain instead of heading back to Laurier since we were both here. He said yes, and that it would be even better if I could meet him at the concert place. I said why not and started walking. 

Here I was expecting some sort of crappy rock concert in a half-filled bar where the musicians aren't that great (I've experienced plenty of those in my music journalist days). But half way there, he texted me again and told me to tell the people at the door that I was with "le saxophonist" and to mention his name.

Using a rideshare is a mixed bag. You don't know who you're going to get! I didn't know my rideshare was playing at the concert or that he was a musician! I did a giddy jump right there on the steps down to Le Petit Champlain and almost lost my camera. Then, imagine my surprise when I walked to the address he gave me and it was the Le Theatre Petit Champlain! I had stumbled right into the International Quebec Jazz Festival and I was right on time.

I walked into the venue sat down at a table in a full theatre of 200. The lights dimmed and I listened to the singer deliver Billie Holiday tunes right on pitch to a five-piece band. Then Alex came on and stunned the audience with his saxophone solos. I think I fell in love right there- this amazing, handsome musician who was going to drive me home to Montreal later that night, and who was the reason why I was enjoying a free concert and free glass of white wine at the moment. I let the happy feeling linger and disappeared into the music. At the end, I stood up for a standing ovation and the band came on again.

Here is a photo to prove that this night really happened:

But of course, before this story sounds too much like a romance comedy, you have to know that offstage, even the coolest jazz musicians are sometimes boring just like everybody else. We ran out of things to talk about and the attraction died off after the first half hour we spent driving back to Montreal. Oh well. It was still an excellent night.

Here is a photo of the dinosaurs at Madrid 2.0 at around 1 am:

Wandering around Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee

Sometime between March and July, my friend Anik got me addicted to the T.V. show House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and based in Washington D.C. It got to the point where we were dying to visit.

We aren't even sure how this road trip got planned out, it just happened. One weekend, we just decided to drive out to the Capital City.

I'm so glad we did. I love the joy and excitement of being in a new place.

Washington's streets and vibe is similar to the rest of North America, so you feel comfortable and at ease in getting around but it's just different enough so you feel you're experiencing something completely new. I will never forget the initial joy of first stepping out of the subway and seeing the city. I literally did a leap.

Some of the architecture in the city was recognizable from the show such as the distinctive railings below on the street or the metro station, where Frank and Zoe meet.

We were really keen to see many of the museums and monuments, but first, brunch at Kramerbooks, where I had my first ever lobster omelette. Apparently, seafood, especially crab cakes, are popular in Maryland. It was delicious, in case anyone was wondering.

One curious thing about D.C. are the long traffic light times. This short street merited a minute of crossing for some reason. I wonder how they decide these things.

The first museum we headed to was the National Geographic Museum. I'm kind of obsessed with the magazine, but I managed to contain my excitement so as not to scare off other guests.

I loved how the exhibition captured the exploration spirit of the magazine. It made you want to go out into the world and live in a different part of the world for a little while- a part of the world that wouldn't have Western comforts. It celebrated difficult achievements of past and current explorers like diving into the ocean or climbing high mountains.

I also loved being around the other museum guests even though we didn't talk because I knew that just because they were there, they shared the same passion for learning and discovery. The National Geographic museum isn't as popular as the big Smithsonian museums (though it is still quite famous) so there were less tourists and more true fans and purists.

We wandered around the historic buildings afterwards and ended up at the Monument and White House.

What's really cool but understated about the White House is there is a really tall tree at the front that looks a little out of place, but when you look closely (see photo below), you notice it's actually surveillance for the premises.

We had a fairly full day, but it still wasn't finished. We ended up at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum where we looked at genomes, dinosaurs, various taxidermy animals, insects, gems and minerals.

One of my favourite things about Washington is the abundance and quality of museums. They are so well-done and curated that I wouldn't mind moving there just to visit all of the museums in depth. Museums in Washington are like art galleries and old churches in Paris; plentiful and well worth the visit.

After we were done, it was dinnertime so we headed to Chinatown for food and of course, ice cream. Then we went home and got ready for day two of museums...

Photos: Quebec City part 2 and Montmorency Falls by Jessica Lee

I will let you in on a little secret. This isn't my first time visiting Quebec City. It's actually my third time.

The first time I was here was on a school field trip in grade 8- 10 years ago. I remember little bits and pieces; but mostly, I enjoy looking back in fondness, walking the same spots I walked 10 years ago and seeing how much I've grown and changed.

My priorities as a 13-year-old and now as a 23-year-old are dramatically different. I didn't get to see most of Quebec City last time because I spent a disproportionate amount of my free time shopping in the stores. 

I still love looking at cool stuff, but these days, I've committed to minimalism (having as little stuff as possible to enjoy my day), and since I've been to so many touristy places, I don't get sucked into the traps anymore.

These days, I like to experience the vibe of a destination, enjoy the food and admire the architecture. Maybe meet a local while I'm at it. I'm all about slow travel. Sometimes, I will sit down at a beautiful view for hours, or spend my day at a cafe reading a book.

We went as slowly as we could through Quebec City, given that we didn't have a lot of time. We wandered the city, headed to the Plains of Abraham, La Citadelle, and the most photographed hotel in the world, Chateau Frontenac. We stopped for ice cream and a beavertail, which is a Canadian fried dough pastry that is absolutely delicious and one of my guilty pleasures. Later, we drove to Montmorency Falls and topped off our trip with a little shopping at Simons, a Quebec department store.

This is me trying to recreate an old photo from the top of the Plains of Abraham where Britain and France fought years ago and ended up creating Canada. Not that they had cameras in 1759, nor that many buildings in the background, or even concrete. But it's really cool to know that you're standing at a place with so much important history.

The view from the top of the hill is also easy on the eyes in an understated way.

Back in the Old City, I tried to capture scenes of the city. This is what Quebec City looks like on a summer's day in 2014. Leisurely, relaxed, but full of bustling tourist energy.

Chemin du Roy/Quebec City Part 1 by Jessica Lee

I took a little road trip from Montreal to Quebec City with Mike and Anik, two friends I met last summer in Saskatoon. Together, our stories are weaved throughout Canada. Mike is originally from Winnipeg, but now both of them live in Toronto. They drove down for a weekend to come visit me in Montreal and to tour the province. All of us would not have met if not for the fates that brought us all to Saskatoon. Mike was finishing his Masters degree at University of Saskatoon, and Anik and I were part of a Canadian Heritage program (aka government-funded French exchange), which happened to give both of us our last choice in destination. Luckily, we both still decided to do the program.

Lately, I've been thinking about how small the world seems when you know a bunch of people from different places. I found out recently that a friend from Europe whom I met in Toronto met this girl in Asia whom I was about to meet in another city in Canada. It's not like I know a large portion of the world's population- it's just likely coincidences (we're all travellers, we're all social and we're all in the same age demographic; we were bound to bump into each other on the road at some point). Anyway, I digress, back to the trip.

We drove to Quebec City from Montreal on Chemin du Roy, which is a beautiful winding country road that leads to beaches like this:

And views like this:

We arrived in Quebec City after a few hours, just before the sun set.

It gave the boys time to wander around the old Quebec City before dinner, while I enjoyed a gypsy jazz busker band we stumbled upon.

I've always loved jazz music. Every summer in Toronto, I would go to the jazz festivals, some summers, I attended every night. When I first moved to Montreal, the jazz festival was taking place and I went as often as I could. But of course, the jazz festival stopped after two weeks, so I love random treats like this!

Here is a snapshot of what the touristy part of Quebec City looks like:

The architecture and small streets are gorgeous aren't they?

It definitely takes me back to Paris or even Bruges. One day I would like to live in a city like this with a balcony overlooking one of the busy streets, but instead of clothing stores, it would be a residential neighbourhood. On the street I would live on, there would be a cheese shop, a small grocery store, cafe and also a bakery. Further along the road, there would be a cinema and some restaurants. I would own a bike with a basket, and not much else. I'm going to stop here. I'm starting to realize this city I'm describing sounds a lot like Lund, Sweden.

We had dinner at Le Lapin Sauté because rabbit is a French delicacy and you just can't eat hamburgers and salad everywhere you go. To really experience a place, you have to experience their food too, even if it sometimes makes you queasy. I ordered the rabbit with rosemary and honey sauce, which actually tasted like chicken, but at least now I know. The only other time I've had rabbit was in Indonesia two years ago, where it was grilled with satay sauce.

After dinner, it started to rain heavily, which sounds terrible, but actually, it's perfect for photography because when people leave and duck to find shelter, you end up with empty streets without anyone jumping into your shots. I stuck around and grabbed a few photos, then we turned in for the night.

10 things you notice when you start working at a hostel by Jessica Lee

I started working and living at a hostel in Montreal last month as a hostess. It's a perfect place to meet lots of interesting people and enjoy life before diving into a career. In between cooking pancakes and partying with guests, here are a few things I picked up about the lifestyle in general:

10. There is always free stuff everywhere
Take for example my growing shampoo and body wash collection (now 5 bottles more than what I came with- I will never run out of shampoo here in Montreal!). Backpackers and travellers are constantly leaving things behind because they don't have room in their luggage, which is perfectly fine with me because now I don't have to buy shampoo (more money for poutine!).

9. It's not the most healthy lifestyle in the world
When you live at a hostel, part of the job is to party with the guests, which means going out many nights until late hours and drinking much more than you're used to at home. And because you're partying all the time, you don't get a lot of time to cook for yourself, so you end up eating whatever fast food you're able to grab along the way. On top of this, you're usually the first one to get up because you have to make the coffee/breakfast for the guests, which means you don't get a lot of sleep.

8. Quiet time is golden and you will come to crave it
It can get tiring being "on" all the time and because the hostel is your home, you can never have a quiet night "in" because there will usually be something you have to take care of, or because people will want to chat or party. There are times when I just want to sit down in the living room with a book without someone trying to strike up a conversation. That being said, hostels are great for bringing new people into your life because every day, a fresh batch of folks come in.

7. There is a wide variety of people out there 
I have never met a wider range of people than when I have been in hostels. Sure, usually the group is young and curious about the world, but you get to meet people from everywhere who have grown up with different world views and cultures. You get to hear about different perspectives and sometimes, a conversation with a stranger will change your life.

6. The best times to use wifi is 2 am, in the middle of the day when there is no one around, or at 5 am
As a digital professional, I use the Internet all the time to upload photos, check social media, talk to people or publish writing. After sharing wifi with so many people during peak hours, you really get to appreciate wifi at home when you're the only one using it.

5. Food goes missing all the time
There's no use getting upset. People are hungry and sometimes just pull things out of the fridge to eat. Just hide your food better next time.

4. People can be really gross
Honestly, where do all these odours come from?

3. The walls have eyes and ears (and at our hostel, cameras)
Lots of things happen around a hostel and sometimes you get to hear about them. When I first started, it was difficult getting used to the concept that I was never alone. It works the other way around too- when you live with a group of 50+ people in the same small quarters, you get to know much more than you want to about someone and news travels fast. It's difficult to maintain an air of mystery. Sometimes people purposely want you to know who they went home with because they make multiple hints (good for them), but I've come to appreciate discretion and subtlety.

2. You start to learn people really well
If you're a social scientist, people person, writer, or like to people watch, you will love being here. When you are surrounded by people all the time, you really get to start to know them. You get better at predicting what people will do and understanding motivations behind their behaviour. For example, when there are a pile of dirty dishes at the sink and a group of us, I can almost guess with perfect accuracy at who will do them first. 

1. People hook up A LOT
Hostels are pretty much the perfect place to be if you're looking for a series of short hook-ups or one-night-stands because people are always coming and leaving, and it's easy to meet people. If you're travelling alone and just want some company, you're also more likely to be open to advances. Basically, hostels are like a buffet for people looking to pick-up.

I know with some of these points, I sound bitter, but I've come to realize how fun and relaxed my job is compared to other hospitality jobs, or even corporate gigs. I appreciate the community of the hostel and the good people I work with. I know this moment in my life won't go on forever, so I'm going to enjoy all the people and fun times while they last. Would I recommend working at a hostel? This is my account of it and I think you should experience it for yourself if you're really curious. ;)

Travel and meeting people: An experimentation of lifestyle by Jessica Lee

One of the most significant lessons I've learned from travel and meeting new folks around the world is that you can live your life in a variety of ways outside of the typical 9-5 and still be alright.

In my travels, I have met army men, cowboys, desert dwellers, middle-aged professional nomads who just never settled down, people who quit their "adult jobs", successful entrepreneurs, adventure-seekers and of course, lots of free spirits.

Back in Toronto, when I had a 9-5, it was always in and out of the office seeing the same faces over and over. Add to the fact that companies are a self-selected environment, in that everyone has to fit a certain mould to get the job in the first place and you're left with fairly similar white-collar professionals.

One of the biggest mistakes North American culture ingrains their children is that right after high school, you need to pick a professional vocation, go to university to study for it, then get a job, find a husband/wife, settle down, buy a house, have 1.6 kids, work until you are 65, then retire in Florida. In preparation for this life plan, I realize I spent many of my high school years building my resume to appeal to other people rather than spend more time on activities that appeal to me. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun during my teen years and I learned a lot from the various extracurriculars and jobs I took up, but sometimes I wish I was less busy.

My parents were immigrants from China/Hong Kong who came to Canada with little money, so I suppose all they wanted for me is a secure future; which is why I was encouraged to go down the typical university after high school route.

I don't want to get all philosophical on you, but for the sake of this post, let's assume that the purpose of life is to be happy (very generic) or if you want to lean towards the philanthropic side, its to make a difference in this world a la Mother Teresa. Happiness could mean different things to different people, some people want stuff. Others just want to enjoy their families and friends. The list could go on and on. Similarly, "making a difference" is also very broad. You could dedicate your life to saving the environment, or fighting for social issues. Or even just leaving each person you meet a little better off.

In North America, in terms of lifestyle, we tend to place high value on career and career development. Conventionally when you get older and as your career progresses, you want to accept larger responsibilities at work and also a salary raise. If you start out as a mailroom clerk, you want to work your way up to CEO.

In the last couple of years however, I've met people who have a completely different perspective on life, people who have ditched the career focus and concentrated on just their passions, viewing work as a side hobby. It is fantastic to get a perspective from people who have made vastly different life choices from typical North Americans. The conversations I have with them give me ideas and blueprints for how I can maximize my youth and time while living a meaningful life.

I met a 39 year old Brit who works as a landscaper for about half the year and spends the rest of the year travelling on a backpacker's budget. I met an older gentleman who said he quit his "adult office job" and was now working as a porter at a hotel in Hawaii so he could dedicate his life to surfing. I met a single older woman in her 40s who had spent her life teaching English around the world and was living in Turkey at the moment.

The above people make a modest living and they just have themselves to support, but their unconventional lifestyles seems suited for them. I'm not sure I could do what they do as I know I need a bit of structure in my life and eventually, I would want to settle down. I think the challenge for me is to fit in all the adventure and travel into my life before eventually having to pick a city/town, then to figure out where I want to settle down and what my future life looks like.

I always pictured myself waking up at a beach house and surfing at 6 am before getting started with my work day (editing photos) - which would happen at a coffee shop or on the beach. At around noon, I would drive to a crag and work on a project climb. Evenings would be spent having friends over for dinner, watching a movie or planning my next trip. On weekends, I would take my sailboat out. Right now, my ideal life sounds like it would be based in Spain. Or Thailand. Maybe even Hawaii or Australia.

I'm not quite certain where I will be living in the next few years or what I will be doing, but here are a few things I know about myself at the moment:

1. I don't want to spend my life in a corporate office (or if I do, it has to be meaningful and creative work)
2. I want to continue meeting interesting people
3. I need to have an interesting job with flexible hours that can support my steadily increasing standards of living
4. I need to have adventure in my life, whether that means living in a new place every few years, weekend outdoor excursions or starting an exciting new project.