Secrets to tackling winter in Banff

Well, I definitely didn’t mentally prepare for winter in Banff. This place blew my mind and froze my face off! If you haven’t heard of it, you have to go there.

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Banff was way colder I realized it would be and far more beautiful than I could actually pictured in my head. A few friends warned me about the temperatures, but you have to feel -10 degrees Fahrenheit to actually understand what that means. I’m not a pansy in weather either! So in order for you to rightfully prep yourself and have the most incredible experience possible, here are some travel tips:

1. Rent a car

There are shuttles that take you from Calgary International Airport to Banff, but if you want to capture the most beautiful photography at Lake Louise, Abraham Lake or in Jasper, you’ll need a car with all wheel drive. I can’t tell you how many front wheel drive cars we saw on the side of the road, stuck deep in about 5 feet of snow and ice. Make sure you get insurance for your vehicle to avoid that mess. I think its about $30 a day (Canadian). The best rental service as far as speed, affordability and availability was Alamo, located right in the Calgary Airport. We went to all the services trying to get the best rate and they beat out all the other companies. You can’t really walk very far in the winter, as it’s way too cold, so a car is definitely a must.

2. Clothing

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You can’t mess around when packing for Banff. Pack a ton of layers, long johns, hand
warmers, hats, high quality gloves/mittens, face mask for skiing, a fleece, snow jacket, multiple thick winter ski socks, Sorel boots (or similar), waterproof snow pants, all camera equipment (including a tripod), hats, long insulated snow jacket and a GPS. There’s spotty service in the mountains!

3. Skiing/snowboarding

The first thing the locals told us was, “Make sure you have a face mask and goggles.” We didn’t prepare for it to be -15F at the peak of the slopes, so we had to buy those when we got there. My hands were throbbing and completely red with two layers of gloves on, so hand-warmers were completely necessary. You have to cover every tiny area of skin on your body with layers of clothing in order to feel comfortable in that kind of weather. Pack snacks and make sure you get to the slopes in the morning if you want to be on the mountain all day. For instance, Sunshine Village closed at 4:30pm, which felt somewhat early.

Rankings for ski resorts: 

1st Sunshine Village – best variety of blues, greens and blacks, 25 minutes from the town of Banff

2nd Lake Louise – great option if you’re staying close to Lake Louise

3rd Mount Norquay – mostly blacks

4. Find the good food

If you’re going to stay in the town of Banff, make sure you take a walk through the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It was built in the early 1900s, is definitely haunted, has a secret Gold Floor, boasts a beautiful outdoor heated pool in the snow and has some of the best restaurants in the area. Samurai, located on the first floor, has really great sushi. It’s not super cheap but worth it! (And I’m a sushi snob.) The town of Banff has mostly pubs and your average Canadian comfort food so we kept choosing the Fairmont restaurants time and time again. There are 12 dining options to choose from there!

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5. Be adventurous

Make sure you don’t simply go wherever the top spots to visit are. Lake Louise, of course isn’t something you want to miss, but get out there and drive a ways out of town to find remote places that you can make your own. We took a long walk into the woods, not knowing where we were going and it was a blast. There was a wolf warning (a first for us) at the time, so we were careful, but other than that it was perfectly peaceful.

Spots not to miss:

Lake Louise

Johnson Canyon (there are two waterfall locations, both beautifully frozen in winter. Prepare for a 30-minute hike to the lowest point and a bit longer if heading to the upper waterfall. Can be icy, be careful!

Jasper

Lake Minnewanka 

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Fairmont Banff Springs

Finally,

Leaving Banff can be hectic during the wintertime because airports and flights often get cancelled due to weather conditions. Our flight was cancelled and rescheduled for the next day. It might be safe to save a day after your trip for potential flight issues!

T.

 

Tips for traveling alone

What if we love travel,  but we wouldn’t dare to leave home by ourselves? It can be daunting to even think of going somewhere you’ve never been without a friend or family member with you. All I ever read in travel blogs are ‘must-dos’ before you settle down, and they often include a bullet for traveling alone. So why is that no one seems to do it?

Here are five tips to build up the courage to travel alone and to make it worth while.

1. Start your adventure in your own town.

Be a tourist in your hometown for a day. Take yourself on a date, don’t go to your typical spots and walk around without looking at your phone. See your hometown as if you’ve never been there before. Remember though, don’t look at your phone while you walk… take a look around and see how it feels to wander by yourself.

2. Find a place you’ve wanted to go for a long time.

There’s got to be somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Pick out a place that you would feel safe if you were there alone. For some, it’s Charleston, South Carolina, for others it’s Dubai. Don’t put limits on yourself!

3. Plan specific places to go.

Once you’ve chosen a destination, find some of the best spots to hit while you’re there. Whether it be certain beaches, museums, restaurants or hikes, find them and write them down. Don’t stop there though, investigate and document all the intricate ways to get there. Keep the directions in a journal so you can take it with you. (Use pictures and maps as well!)

4. Plan for problems.

Bringing extra money with you while you travel alone will help you relax in tense situations. If you lose your train ticket, you need a late night bite in a decent area, or you want to upgrade to a better hotel room to feel comfortable, allow yourself that luxury. Traveling alone can be stressful enough, so keep yourself packed with financial support. (Not with cash, but money in credit cards.)

5. Don’t be afraid to make friends when you get there.

Yes, being safe when meeting strangers is imperative. But there are so many incredible people who embrace lone travelers as if they were family. Find a cafe that matches your style, bring your laptop and get some work done. I’ve found that working in a bustling place encourages new friends to inquire about what you do. From there, you’re able to share who you really are with them and potentially create new relationships that could last a lifetime. Or – perhaps sit at a wine bar before the dinner crowd arrives and befriend the bartender. Bartenders seem to know all the ins and outs of a town. Start there!

Traveling alone is definitely for the brave. Luckily, you’re brave… so don’t wait for someone else to find interest in places you’ve always wanted to visit. Get out there and make life what you want it to be.

Light me up

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One of the hardest parts of saying goodbye to an adventure that has defined my character indefinitely, is to remember of a quote from my favorite song. It says, “when one door closes, open a window.”

That is the best way to think of my journey living in Europe. As I sit here at the airport, nearly tearing up, I have to think of a few things. If we never end the happiest moments of our lives, we can’t truly understand the value of the experience. These may be cliché notions but I am having to reach into my pocket and take them out because I don’t want to let go. We have such a huge planet that is so vast; we can spend an entire lifetime traveling around it. Though I haven’t left Europe during the course of this trip, I am to be forever restless to discover whatever else there is out there.

To be me. To travel. To be a traveler. To be a wanderer. To be a nomad. To see a train and want to get on it. To not care where the destination is, as long as it is somewhere new. To love public transportation. To plan the next trip in the middle of the current one.  To find the greatest peace in the simplest of things. To find a few minutes to sit and watch. To buy too many travel books. To feel the most comfortable in the airport. To talk to everyone you see. To walk long distances. To love the modest lifestyle. To feel lit on fire…all the time.

I’ve learned to be comfortable in the most uncomfortable situations. My biggest joys are new mountains, rivers, new colors and new people.. I am obsessed with soaking up new cultures. Small annoyances and mishaps become funny anecdotes. Whatever problems bubble up pass so easily. My biggest fears have slowly diminished.

What is life…to be genuinely happy and to realize that people and experiences mean more than anything else out there. Joy is the sun that shines through airplane windows. Joy is a bus ticket. Joy is witnessing two separate tables of people strike up conversation with one another, despite a language barrier. Living four months traveling the world teaches the truth about life and what it should be like. All of the people out there country-hopping know exactly what I am talking about. It is the priceless education of travel.

For those of us who know what I mean, trying to “find yourself” takes a while. We all think we know what we want, what we want to do, who we want, where we want to end up and what each day means. But how can we know any of that if we don’t step out of our own backyards. I don’t mean our physical locations, I mean the comfort of our limits. We can travel the world, sure. But to be a tourist and to be immersed in a culture are so different and produce completely contrasting results. One is a photo album of all the beautiful places we’ve been. The other is a photo album of all of the nights we spent playing guitar with locals until 3 a.m., of moments we lost our passports on the train, of the tiny hostel rooms we had to cram ourselves in, of the ferries we missed, of the protein bars we had to eat because we can’t afford anything else, of the best friends we made in the most uncommon of circumstances. I love getting uncomfortable, feeling dirty and walking so much my shoes break.

And so it continues, a life of always chasing a new sunrise. Here I come, Portugal.

T.