Casual Friday + NYC Recommendations?

Another week and, as usual, I’m glad it’s Friday. It was a productive (and largely enjoyable) week. But still, the relief and sense of expansive freedom provided by Friday evenings just can’t be replicated.

My (admittedly superficial) highlight of the week? We got Wordle in two tries. Our family celebration would rival any touchdown dance at the Superbowl.


Before I launch into my weekly recap, I want to, once again, offer a disclaimer. I don’t intend for people to feel obligated to read every word of these posts; skimming is expected/encouraged.

I regularly export the text from my blog, and these Friday summaries represent a family diary of sorts…which doesn’t necessarily translate into riveting reading for others.

Without further ado, the week that was:

FRIDAY |

My second Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis lunch for 2022 was wonderful. We had soup (carrot, squash, and lentil). We had a sandwich (tuna, tomato, cheese, garlic, and green onion on potato bread, grilled to perfection on a panini press). And then we each ate an Aero bar. And the tea, as always, was brewed to perfection.

Home in time to tackle work tasks and greet the kids.

We headed out to do some errands and promised the kids a playground. It started raining en route, but wonderfully the clouds parted and we got a favourite park – complete with ziplines – all to ourselves.

SATURDAY | This was, without a doubt, my ideal Saturday. If I had to repeat a Saturday, this would be the very type of Saturday I’d choose. It might sound boring, but I love “incidentally-productive puttering” and this day was full of that.

I woke up at 2:30 am (ugh) and fit in three hours of work in the office (amazing). I got back to sleep from 5:30-6:30 am and realized the best night to have disturbed sleep is Saturday morning because it is the only morning we don’t have a set/early schedule. I relaxed in bed until John took the kids on a walk.

While they were gone I did a quick grocery run and made a batch of muffins (these, always).

Levi hosted a friend for an impromptu playdate. Within seconds of this friend arriving they were playing chess on the couch. So cute! Meanwhile, John, Abby and I started planning stops on our summer trip to NYC/Boston!

We tackled more landscaping projects. Twice a year (spring/fall) our local sanitation department offers “big garbage” cleanup, so we took some items left from renovations to the curb.

After lunch we made a quick stop at my favourite thrift store. I know I’ve been going a lot recently, but…it’s fun. We spent $18 and got 5 items, all great finds that fill holes (literally, in the case of pants for Levi, and proverbially) in our wardrobes.

Home to clean the car (vacuum, scrub).

I spontaneously asked a friend if she could walk and she was available. We fit in a 6 km loop and I managed to get a great stack of books from the library while getting my new card activated. Notably, on this walk, my friend casually mentioned she was pretty sure she knew “The Knitter“. Alas, “The Knitter” does have a name and it is not, shockingly enough, “The Knitter“.

Home to do laundry.

Date-night* with John (he made a delicious supper), while the kids had a sleepover.

*The only lowlight of this Saturday was our movie selection; we watched The Batman and I hated it. I was expecting something akin to the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale movies, which I really enjoyed. This version was much grittier – dark and devoid of any redeeming qualities (to me). I kept waiting for it to get better (or be over; it was so much longer than I anticipated). I should have cut my losses and abandoned this movie within the first 10 minutes when I could sense it was not going to be my thing. Live and learn.

That one hiccup aside, this was my idea of a perfect Saturday. No pressure, no set plans, but with a nice balance of productive puttering.

SUNDAY | Church. No sign of “The Knitter,” but it was a wonderful service.

Weeks ago a friend mentioned an interest in having “fun friends – like the type that will go to concerts with you.” That same day I messaged her about a free concert series locally…and Sunday we went together.

While I still don’t love classical, the pianist was superb and I really enjoyed my time. I also walked to/from to fit in my daily km.

Book highlights with the kids. The Odd One Out was a very engaging hide-and-seek-style book and was our favourite of the week. Petal the Angry Cow had a bit of “rude sass” but the kids loved this so much I had to include it!

MONDAY |

It was my turn to host our small group discussing friendship. (I don’t actually belong to a book club; we’re just a group of women coming together to specifically discuss Jennie Allen’s book Find Your People.)

This week was all about vulnerability with close friends, and we ended up sharing some hard stuff in deeply personal ways.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this book (mostly because of how dissimilar I am from the very extroverted author), but this week was my favourite. It made me think of one of my favourite quotes:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. Timothy Keller

I feel known and loved by this little group of women (and hope they feel the same). It was just a very powerful experience.

I’m reading a book right now (This One Wild and Precious Life – Sarah Wilson) that classifies most relationships in our modern era as being “connection-lite” which the author terms as “the cheap, diet version of showing up to others and to life.” There is a place for casual friendships, of course, but “like the diet version of anything, it leaves us hungry for the real thing. You know, full-fat life.” Food for thought and I’m glad to be forming relationships with others that are deliciously “full-fat”.

Down to the office for hours of work, a walk, and then over an hour at a playground where the kids reveled in the sunshine, playing soccer and doing flips off the equipment.

Home for supper. There were lots of complaints – so. many. complaints – over an objectively delicious Ham, Lentil, and Vegetable soup and, for the record, one of Abby’s friends spontaneously came for supper and ate TWO BOWLS of said soup.

Reading with Levi. I love these moments. Watching him learn to read is like getting the front row seat to a magic show. His world is opening up more and more each day.

TUESDAY |

Back to that “big garbage” cleanup I mentioned (think old couches, desk chairs, books, empty paint cans). This happens each spring and fall and is…an event. For a week trucks and cars with trailers patrol neighbourhoods, looking for hidden gems. Tuesday morning on the way to school, I collected (spotted by John!) a like-new Herschel backpack from a neighbour’s pile. I can imagine some might find this odd/unsettling, but where I live it is 100% normal. To me, the only thing better than something thrifted is something free. I also wanted a backpack with a laptop sleeve. I’ve been using a bag (thrifted) for the last two years that I don’t love. It works, but I was thrilled to pass it on to another home and start using this more aesthetically pleasing (and functional) backpack!

In between work tasks, I did a 5 km run with John on the waterfront. We had a tough headwind on the way back, but it felt great. I tend to give myself layers of goals: run this far in this amount of time at this pace. This time my goal was to get to 5 km; given the wind, my time of 32:18 felt like a success.

Highlight of the day: coming home and tackling a fun work project with John. So satisfying.

Lunch and then I worked in our home office until supper. John took the kids to a local park and sent these pictures. They have a good life.

In other news: I sent “The Knitter” an e-mail introducing myself. This makes me seem more extroverted than I am. At worst I figured she would think I was crazy; at best, I’d make a new connection/friend. Life is short.

Supper was another gong show. I thought I would make the leftover soup experience more pleasant by offering a surprisingly-rare grilled cheese sandwich to accompany it. Somehow one child heard there was something “special” for supper, walked in the door, took a whiff, and thought they smelled equally rare, but more celebrated, souffle pancakes. This child then proceeded to wail and gnash teeth upon learning it was “only grilled cheese” which we have “all the time” (we do not have grilled cheese all the time, by the way; #realitydistortion). And all this fuss was before they learned the soup they disliked was also on the menu.

It ended up being fine and the soup was tolerated. Onward and upward.

WEDNESDAY |

Rain, so no walk to school.

With this extra time, Levi learned how to tie shoelaces. In like 10 minutes. How do these things happen so fast? He’ll now have this skill mastered for the rest of his life. The days are long, but the years (and skill development) can fly by.

(For the record, I love that Velcro can now be found on shoes for all ages. But still. This feels like another milestone ticked off, in a bittersweet way.)

It was a sluggish start to the day and I felt tired and unmotivated. I have some big – but decidedly “unfun” – work tasks to tackle that don’t have a set deadline so they just feel unwieldy. Such is life.

Work.

Work calls.

Work.

I met “The Knitter” for coffee. Seriously.

Library run, and two texts: my best friend wondering if she could pop over with her kids for a spontaneous visit (she brought hot chocolate in a Thermos and I sent her home with two little baggies of seeds – flax and sunflower – because in addition to sharing hard stuff, this is another wonderful aspect of our “full-fat” friendship; on Thursday I gave her a skirt, two winter hats, and my old laptop bag. She gave me 6 potatoes. I’m not making any of this up).

The second text was for Abby to join a friend at a bring-a-friend dance class.

I wrote down two quotes from The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker.

  • Decide what, among the things you notice, you might declare to be public works of art. Perhaps a disheveled pylon marking a street flaw…Grant yourself the superpower of making “art” wherever you go, and see how that changes what you perceive. Art is everywhere if you say so.
  • We may never be able to recapture exactly the feeling of looking at the world before we’d spent so much time looking at the world. But next time you are confronted with some scene or situation that feels numbingly familiar, stop and ask: What would a child see here?

Incidentally, I didn’t finish this book – it was overwhelming in the number of exercises it suggests (131) which felt like too much of a “good thing.”

I did a lot of reading after the kids went to bed (some All Creatures, some of Matt Haig’s The Comfort Book, some of C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, more of the Sarah Wilson book).

THURSDAY |

Another sluggish start to the day. I didn’t feel like I needed more sleep, just more of that familiar “moving through molasses” sensation. Oh well. Things felt better the longer I was up and moving.

Walked the kids to school.

Work calls.

Another short walk.

Work.

I put in some solid effort on those no-set-deadline-“unfun” tasks. I appreciate the flexibility I have working from home, for the most part at my own pace and schedule. I sent a slow of work e-mails last week at 5 am, but can also head to the park with my kids at 3:30 pm and no one cares. That said, it can be tough to stay focused. And I thrive on structure, gold stars, crossing things off. I remembered for the 47,569th time – making a list helps me put everything in focus. I took the time to write down every single item I could think of that needs doing (and gave myself some specific deadlines in the process). They all still need doing, but I have a plan and that disproportionately boosted my mood.

It was rainy, so we invited friends over for a movie afternoon once school was over. The kids watched Luca, and the adults chatted.

Supper.

Bible Club for the kids; while they were occupied, John and I made another visit to the library and a quick stop by Walmart.

NYC Recommendations?

Now let’s make a giant tangent over to our New York City planning. Any hidden gems you think we should check out? This will be the kid’s first time visiting NYC!!

We’re currently planning the following (these aren’t arranged by any sort of itinerary; we’ll organize our days to minimize walking for the kids):

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking the Staten Island Ferry, and going to Broadway (Aladdin is our first choice, because the kids love the movies, but other options include The Lion King or Wicked).

The kids are obsessed with the Night at the Museum movies, so we’re aiming to get to the American Museum of Natural History, Empire State Building (we plan to go to the top), Rockefeller Centre, and the 9/11 Memorial.

We’ll hit a few major sights in Central Park, swing by the Plaza for some pictures (Home Alone is a full-blown obsession), go to a few of the chocolate stores in Times Square…those stops should be self-explanatory.

We’re planning on a chunk of a day at Coney Island (John and I have never been and we’ll plan to get hotdogs). We’ll walk through FAO Schwartz, Macy’s and the LEGO store, and head to Wall Street to see the Bull.

We might do the Bronx Zoo on Wednesday (free). Thanks to Kae we’re also planning to go to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Roosevelt Island Lighthouse.

I have a few playgrounds pinned (namely the Ancient Playground and the Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park).

We might try for the MET (think this would be a stretch for the kids, though I’d love to spend a day here and I’ve still never been to The Cloisters), and we’ll swing by the NYC Public library.

We will skip The High Line (we’ve done this twice and the last thing the kids need will be more walking), and John and I have already done “Top of the Rock”, hence doing the Empire State Building this time.


How was your week – does anyone else adore Fridays? Any NYC recommendations (feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or e-mail them to elisabethfrostblog {at } gmail.com). What do you think about the distinction Sarah Wilson makes between “connection-lite” friendships, and the “full-fat” variety?

Header photo by Christian Ladewig on Unsplash

Destination Prince Edward Island: Part Two

No one was in a hurry to get started on Day Two. I didn’t sleep very well, mostly because the room was too warm and I had opted, for no good reason, to stay in bed instead of turning down the heat.

But everyone was cheerful and seemed content to have a leisurely start. The kids were keen to watch cartoons (we don’t have cable, so watching things “live” is a novelty); John went for a run and I eventually rallied the kids for breakfast. Turns out it was grab-and-go: breakfast sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, water/juice. Simple, but the kids thought it was great fun to carry their brown paper bag back to the room. (We ended up with a few extra breakfast sandwiches and instead of making PB&J sandwiches on the road, the kids ate these for lunch).

Levi wanted to check out the games room, and I had no desire to get wet/smell like chlorine before a long day on the road, so we spent a fun hour playing foosball and Crokinole while John and Abby made good use of the waterslide. We checked out around 9:30 am.

Close friends have several grown children living near Charlottetown and we were able to coordinate a quick rendezvous at a local park. When John and I were newlyweds we used to babysit these “kids” and now they’re out on their own (and one is married!). It’s slightly disconcerting to see how quickly other people’s children grow up (these “kids” were younger than our kids’ current ages when we first met them).

We said goodbye around 10:15 and headed off to our first destination: Cavendish.

Day Two

1. Cavendish

In the summer Cavendish is a hub of activity. There’s a small amusement park, endless gift and tourist shops, beaches, boardwalks and, for Anne of Green Gables fans, the epicenter of all things devoted to Lucy Maud Montgomery.

He finds walking sticks everywhere we go. I love the purposeful stride in this photo…it captures his personality perfectly.

This house – the inspiration for Green Gables – was owned by Montgomery’s cousins David Macneill and his sister Margaret (inspiration for Matthew and Marilla, perhaps?).

There is a new, sprawling visitor centre, but it was closed for the season. One perk of visiting in the offseason was free access to Green Gables. There were a few people wandering the grounds when we first arrived but we essentially had the place to ourselves. In the summer you can tour the house but it is swarming with people; I was perfectly content to wander outside on an overcast April day…for free.

And I knew exactly where I wanted to record my daily walk – the Haunted Woods (they did shoot some scenes for the movie on this trail)!

Entrance to the Haunted Woods Trail.

This was a beautiful hike that wound through the woods to the Cavendish Cemetery.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in 1874 and lived in Cavendish until 1911 (she wrote the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series in 1908; the rest were penned in Ontario). When she died (Toronto, 1942) she was brought back to PEI for burial in the Cavendish Cemetery.

So this evening I went over to the graveyard and kept tryst with my dead. The old spot was beautiful in the sunset life, with its plots snow-white with clover. And I did what sounds rather dismal but which did not seem dismal to me at all – I selected a plot for my own resting place. I want to be buried in Cavendish graveyard when my time comes. I want to lie among my kindred in the old spot I love so much better than any other spot on earth…I selected a plot on the crest of the hill, looking down on the beautiful scene I always loved – the pond, the shore, the sand-dunes, the harbour. On innumerable summer eves I have stood here and gazed on them, longing for some diviner speech to express what I felt. I want to feel that my last resting place is in sight of them…There, sometime I shall lie and the wind will creep up from the sea to sing over me and the old gulf will croon me a lullaby.

L.M. Montgomery’s Journal; July 21, 1923

There is a small park/playground across from the cemetery that marks the location of her grandparent’s home. After her mother died (and her father remarried and left PEI), she was raised by her maternal grandparents.

I had left Cavendish forever, save as a fitful visitor; and in leaving it felt that I was leaving the only place on earth my heart would ever truly love. The world might have a home for me somwhere, but the only home my inmost soul would every acknowledge would be that little country settlement by the gulf shore…

L.M. Montgomery’s Journal; January 28, 1912

It was a slow walk with many stops along the way, but it was a great experience. I enjoyed it more than I had anticipated; the babbling brook, a stretch of trail that provided inspiration for Lover’s Lane – it was quiet and peaceful and yet also felt steeped authentically in the spirit of Anne.

By now we were definitely running behind schedule, though; I grabbed some food from the picnic bag and we headed off to our next stop.

En route, we slowed down to watch two foxes cross the road (we also saw 10 deer on this trip).

2. dalvay by the sea

We made the shortest of pit stops to swing by Dalvay By the Sea. This location is used for exterior shots of the White Sands hotel in Anne of Green Gables (and the Road to Avonlea series).

Perhaps my biggest regret is not exploring the beach; it’s paid access in the summer, but looked stunning in the off-season.

We briefly debated stopping but when we voiced this option Levi piped up from the back seat: “This isn’t our destination.” That settled matters and we moved on.

3. greenwich dunes trail

Greenwich was a last-minute addition to our itinerary. We had spotted it in some search strings on Friday, but remained noncommital until our rendezvous with friends on Saturday morning when they asked if we were planning to stop by Greenwich (and encouraged us to do so).

This was another “wait for the good part” experiences. I knew this trail system had famous boardwalks, but somehow had assumed they would be readily accessible from the parking lot. It ended up being several kilometers of relatively unassuming trails before we reached the floating boardwalk that crossed a lake leading out to the dunes.

Because of the weather conditions, a heavy blanket of fog hung over the water and it looked like something otherworldly. It was beautiful.

The floating boardwalk was long and well constructed. The whole experience was a lot of fun and the kids especially enjoyed this part of the adventure.

You can barely make out the dunes through the fog and the scale is hard to describe – these mounds of sand are enormous.

We took a quick peek at the beach; it was windy and cold, so we didn’t opt to explore further but, yet again, it was beautiful.

We found a nautical treasure by the beach – several buoys that had washed in on the tide.

There was another 4 km trail that offered a whole other set of boardwalks, but we were running behind schedule and figured leaving one trail unexplored gives us a perfect excuse to return another time, perhaps in warmer weather with all the vibrant colours of summer and sunshine.

4.shipwreck Point lighthouse

This was a bit of a “cheat” – the kids were warm and settled in the car and quite content to keep listening to their audiobook, so John was the only one who hopped out at this location.

5. east point lighthouse

I suspect the views from this lighthouse (the eastern tip of the island) were spectacular, but we literally couldn’t see a thing. The fog was so dense.

These final two lighthouses added more than an hour to our trip, and we probably would have been better served to skip them…but we are completists and there was something satisfying about visiting the west (West Point), north (North Cape), and east (East Point) lighthouses.

The kids stretched their legs and had a great time pretending to be foghorns. In reality, we are a very loud family, so this wasn’t a stretch. Though for the purposes of these pictures I was impressed they showed restraint and only pretended to yell.

6. Anne of green gables chocolates (AKA the failed pit stop)

I mostly aim to eliminate clutter, so buying souvenirs is not my thing. But years ago I had stopped at an Anne of Green Gables Chocolate outlet and thought it would be a fun (edible) memento from the trip. The Charlottetown store didn’t open until 11 am, so we opted to skip it and were poised to emerge from PEI without a single treat/souvenir.

Enter the bathroom stop.

Both kids suddenly were desperate to find a bathroom and their urgency happened, coincidentally, when we were close to a little shopping complex that housed an Anne of Green Gables Chocolate store.

Now, of course, things are pricey in a place like this, but I reasoned it would be worth it for a convenient bathroom. Whomp, whomp. There were no public bathrooms. And every other store on the strip is only open seasonally.

We bought our obligatory chocolate treats – which were delicious, especially the chocolate-covered chips which I haven’t had in years and were every bit as yummy as I remembered – and made a hasty retreat to a local gas station.

Ironically, between what Abby bought with allowance money and our little family package, we paid more for these treats than for our one purchased meal on the island. Everything was very delicious, though!

7. cape jourimain + the confederation bridge

And then we were off the island. The weather cleared by the time we reached Charlottetown, so we had nothing but blue sky for our final goodbyes.

Levi was awake this time so we opted to stop to get pictures of the bridge. This morphed into throwing rocks, hiding a painted rock…and then begging to walk to the lighthouse.

It was already supper time and I wasn’t keen to get home late. But it was such a beautiful evening. And the kids laid out some very convincing arguments. After cloud and drizzle all day, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and there was the dangling carrot of another lighthouse.

I caved and said yes and we really did have a lovely walk through the woods to reach our final lighthouse of the trip, which offers a great view of the bridge.

Another spectacular view of the bridge; the kids chased each other around the boardwalk circle for…a long time!

I actually came to this very spot years prior with my undergraduate Ornithology class, so it felt like a weird sense of deja vu, though at the time I never dreamed the next time I returned I would have two kids in tow!

8. the home stretch

I’m not going to lie. The last two hours of this trip were brutal. The kids fell asleep, but we had to drive through the tricky onset of dusk with the confusing peripheral shadows and then total darkness, all on high alert because of deer and moose. After almost 20 hours in the car over two days, I have rarely been so happy to see home, mostly because of those final few hours. It started to rain just as we pulled in the driveway, so I’m so grateful we didn’t have slick roads thrown into the mix.

The kids woke up, got in jammies and I heated up Magic Bags (of course) so they could snuggle in and get right back to sleep.

John and I ended up unpacking just about everything. We travel light and were only away for one night but, still, it was wonderful to wake up Sunday morning relatively refreshed, with not much to do aside from laundry.

And…that’s a wrap on our whirlwind (offseason) trip to PEI!

Your turn. Any fun travel lately or are you looking forward to any particular adventures over the summer?

Destination Prince Edward Island: Part One

You might think the timing of this trip is directly related to my recent foray into all things Lucy Maud Montgomery…but you’d be mostly wrong.

Really, this reflects the sad truth that we live only three hours from a beautiful province and haven’t visited for A DECADE.


We have good excuses; we spend summer vacation time at my parent’s lakeside home in New Brunswick, which is delightful.

Also, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is a province utterly transformed in the summer; there are people everywhere. It’s hard – and expensive – to find accommodations. We also aren’t the type of family who enjoys spending half an hour searching for parking spaces at a crowded beach or amusement park. (I mean, does anyone enjoy that? I guess it would be more accurate to say we are the type of family that actively avoids crowded beaches and amusement parks.)

And, perhaps most importantly, we love exploring our home province of Nova Scotia (check out my Travel page for some highlights), which is stunning in the summer.

So, at the last minute, we decided to trek to PEI. The kids had a random Friday off school and we’re trying to be intentional about making the most of family adventuring while John is on sabbatical. And there is NO shortage of accommodations in the off-season (as busy as PEI gets in the summer, it is “dead” in the winter/spring).

And, yes, I’ll admit that reading the Anne books gave me a final nudge.

We only stayed on the island for one night. I’ll recap our adventures from Day One today and come back tomorrow with Day Two.

Day One

1. the drive

We hoped to be on the road by 7 am, but the kids were awake early enough that we were driving by 6:45 am. It’s always a great (and rare) feeling to be ahead of schedule.

I tasked Abby with making some PB&J sandwiches for the car, and the kids ate these for breakfast en route.

Side note regarding food for the trip. Between frugality and finding food stops to be very time-consuming, we prefer to travel with items from home. We packed some ham and cheese sandwiches for the day (and brought jars of PB&J + mini brioche buns to make more sandwiches if needed), hard-boiled eggs, apples, oat muffins, carrot sticks, and a big jug of water, so we didn’t stop to eat until supper time; on Day 2 we had breakfast included at the hotel and then just ate remaining picnic items the rest of the day).

The kids were absolute rockstars on this trip. They’re used to spending time in the car and seem to understand the delayed gratification necessary to enjoy adventures. I also think we’ve reached the ideal stage for this sort of thing: they’re old enough to be out of diapers and naps but young enough to get excited with simple activities.

The first hour of the drive we spent talking about…I can’t remember what?! Then the kids mostly just listened to audiobooks.

2. The BRIDGE

Levi, sadly, had fallen asleep in a very rare car nap and missed our bridge crossing. There isn’t much to see because the sides of the bridge are so high, but it is still an impressive and fun part of the trip.

The Confederation Bridge links PEI to the mainland of New Brunswick and is the world’s longest bridge that crosses ice-covered waters. At 12.9 km, it is a long bridge by any standard!

3. Cape egmont

Our first stop was Cape Egmont. The dirt road leading down to this lighthouse was treacherous (muddy and deeply rutted), but we made it in – and out – in one piece.

One of our family “things” is visiting lighthouses. We’ve gone to at least 60 now, and it’s a fun unifying theme for our vacations as we actively seek out new lighthouses wherever we go.

Of the 7 (!!) lighthouses discovered on this trip, we agreed this was the prettiest (it would be even nicer in the summer with green grass standing out in sharp relief to the red cliffs).

4. WEST POINT LIGHTHOUSE

West Point is the “poster” child of lighthouses for the island. It actually has a (run-down) motel associated with the lighthouse, so you can book accommodations that attach to the lighthouse. It was pretty and tall, but we didn’t stick around too long and the beachfront was nothing spectacular.

5. CEDAR DUNES

When we left West Point Lighthouse, we drove by Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. The kids spotted playground equipment and we made an impromptu stop. I did a 1 km walk while they played, and then we grabbed lunch from our picnic bag before heading off to the northern tip of the island.

6. North Cape LIGHTHOUSE

While PEI is very small, it still felt like North Cape was a long trek into the middle of nowhere. It is the northernmost tip of the island and I was shocked by how windy it was; when we discovered the Wind Energy Institue of Canada is located on the premises, it made a lot of sense. (There were wind farms everywhere and they have giant turbine pieces on display for the public.)

North Cape is also home to the longest natural rock reef in North America (who knew?), extending almost two kilometers offshore from the cliffs. On a warmer day we might have explored the beach and looked for all the promised sea life, but the kids and I quickly admitted we were freezing and headed back to the car…where I realized my keys were in the trunk (not a good place for keys when a car is locked) and John was nowhere to be found.

I was feeling bummed. It was cold and windy. The lighthouse was rather industrial and run-down. And it had been a long drive. I called John to ask him to come to unlock the car and he said he’d be right back…but we might want to consider coming to see the rock formation he had discovered on the beach.

I convinced the kids to give this chilly cape one last shot and it ended up being one of those moments when waiting just a bit longer paid dividends. The rock formation ended up being one of my highlights from the trip!

This looks like a relatively boring access point to the beach and then BAM!

These pictures don’t do this space justice. The kids had a great time playing in the smaller caves and cutouts and there was a small cove/tiny beach on the other side of the formation that was protected from the wind. It was a hidden oasis I suspect few people visiting the area discover!

7. thunder cove

We love spelling things in the sand. Fun fact: sand writing factored into John’s marriage proposal!

Thunder Cove has one of the best spots for viewing the iconic red sandstone cliffs of PEI. We were warned in advance, though, to CHECK THE TIDES.

So…we CHECKED THE TIDES and opted to visit 4 hours after high tide. We walked down the beach to reach the most famous landmark – the Teacup formation. Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock in the form of some very cold water and an incomplete tide. The water was still too high to get around the bend to view the teacup formation. Whomp, whomp. So, a friendly word of advice: CHECK THE TIDES and then visit at the lowest tide possible!

We ended up finding an alternate route that left us quite muddy (note to self: allowing Abby to wear light blue jeans was a mistake), but the mess was worth it! Such a pretty formation.

8. New london lighthouse

The New London Lighthouse was probably my favourite lighthouse, largely due to nostalgia.

When I looked up filming locations from the Anne of Green Gables films, most spots were actually in Ontario (which is a bit of a letdown for movies featuring PEI). But one lighthouse scene was filmed on the island and happened to be smack dab in the middle of our return route to Charlottetown, so we made a quick stop.

Again, this would be nicer in the summer with tall green grass, but we tried to take a picture that highlighted the pop-culture significance of the location and I would definitely consider coming back here for a longer visit on a warmer day as it was a lovely spot (complete with a staircase that led to nowhere, which the kids thought was hilarious).

9. lucy maud Montgomery’s birthplace

Our final stop for the day was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace, which we happened upon by accident. John saw a sign out of the corner of his eye, and we made a hasty turn into the empty (everything. is. empty. in. the. offseason!) parking lot so I could take a look around.

And here, around a certain corner, is a certain small, yellowish-brown house, close to the road, that I always look at with a kind of fascination, for it is the house where my father and mother lived after their marriage, and where I was born and spent the first year of my life. The years have passed on and each succeeding one has left the little brown house something shabbier than before, but its enchantment has never faded in my eyes. I always look for it with the same eager interest when I turn the corner.

L. M. Montgomery’s Journal, December 31, 1898

It’s no longer brown but reading her quote on the placard gave me goosebumps!

10. Charlottetown

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used Gretchen Rubin’s line about: The things that go wrong often make the best memories and I got another chance during this trip.

We were tired after a long day and when we confidently pulled up to the front entrance of our hotel, you could practically hear angels singing. Come to find out we were trying to check in to the WRONG hotel. There were two hotels with the same name in Charlottetown, which I didn’t realize when I keyed our destination into the GPS. It ended up costing us about 20 minutes and I was very grumpy about my mistake.

But, sometimes the things that go wrong do make good memories and the kids seem to think it’s both thrilling and hilarious that I made this mistake and it has become part of our family story about the trip.

Once we got settled at the right hotel, we headed to the pool – the waterslide was 105 ft long and very fast and very fun.

We found a local restaurant and ate a quick supper and were back to the hotel around 8:00 pm for some snacks in bed (which we brought from home) and a few more episodes of Race Against the Tide.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d show you my screentime report from this Friday! Between taking photos, Googling everything, and using the GPS (how did people travel before GPS and Google?)…well, there were a lot of screens.

And that’s a wrap on Day One. I know there many loyal Anne of Green Gables fans out there, but I feel like PEI is an obscure travel destination – has anyone reading here ever visited PEI?

Destination Nova Scotia: Cabot Trail + Cape Breton

Around this time last year our family completed a trek around the Cabot Trail – a 300 km highway that winds through the Cape Breton Highlands offering stunning views of the ocean, woodlands, and other-worldly rock formations.

There are countless itineraries put forward by travel bloggers and Tourism Nova Scotia. This is not going to be of that sort of caliber. I didn’t actually research very much. We were traveling close to the Thanksgiving/fall foliage peak season (even during COVID conditions) and accommodation choices were limited. We didn’t book a whale-watching excursion or eat fresh seafood or overnight in a yurt. But it was a great family trip, nonetheless.


Before we even got out the door, our trip hit a major snag. Somehow, despite it being a last-minute vacation, we managed to book all our accommodations for the WRONG weekend. A few days after booking, John woke one morning with the vague sense something was wrong and quickly realized we had selected the wrong dates! Aside from one of our accommodations, we were able to maintain accommodations at the same locations…although that one change ended up being quite memorable (and not for the best of reasons). 

day ONE

We picked the kids up from school at lunchtime on a Thursday and started the trek toward Cape Breton. The kids were phenomenal in the car. We ate lunch in the car en route (I packed a bento-style, self-contained lunch for each of the kids) and then we stopped for a picnic supper at a lighthouse along the way, before heading off to our final stop of the day: Sydney.

I did not get them to pose like this; not sure what inspired them to adopt this stance, but I think it’s adorable, even if it does look staged!

We ended up arriving in Sydney around 6:00 pm. After checking in at our hotel, we decided to explore the waterfront boardwalk and visit the World’s Largest Fiddle, which we could see from our hotel window.

On our way to collect warm coats from the car, Levi tripped in the parking lot, getting some nasty abrasions on his hand with various rock shards embedded for good measure. Poor fella. We got First Aid supplies from the front desk and John and Abby headed off alone while I tended to the walking wounded. Levi made a speedy recovery, though his hand was a bit sore the rest of the weekend.

One of the main reasons we selected our hotel was because of its advertised waterslide. Our kids, like most others, love hotel waterslides. Because of COVID restrictions, we had to book a pool time, and they were elated when our allotted time finally arrived. Enthusiasm waned quickly; the pool was cold, the waterslide was cordoned off, and the hot tub was drained. Hmmm. Win some, lose some. We stayed for 15 minutes – long enough that everyone was freezing and soaked – and then piled back into our hotel room for hot showers and an early evening of popcorn and a movie, which is often the highlight of these trips for our kids anyway.

DAY two

Friday morning we woke early, tried again to visit the giant fiddle as a family (this time with success), and spent the rest of the morning at Louisbourg.

After Peggy’s Cove, Louisbourg’s is likely the second most iconic lighthouse in Nova Scotia.

The lighthouse was stunning and gave great views of the fortress across the harbour. There were rocks for climbing (basically all that is required for our kids to have a good time), and a pile of rubble from the original lighthouse – the first in North America to be constructed with fireproof building materials.

While COVID had forced the staff of Louisbourg to stop many of their regular demonstrations, we were impressed with the scale of the fortress and had a fun time exploring the grounds.

Next up was Ingonish. In my quick-and-dirty research leading up to our trip – and given our family’s penchant for lighthouses – I thought I had found a winning ticket. A lighthouse converted into ice cream parlour. Yes, please! It required a detour (40 minutes round trip) and I had been unable to get confirmation the site was still open for the 2020 season. We decided to go for it.

It was closed. Whomp, whomp.

We made up for that disappointment with a great hike that started on the perimeter of the famous Keltic Lodge (Middle Head Trail). We randomly found a geocache, which the kids were delighted about, and it felt good to stretch our legs after lots of car time.

It was interesting how few locations there were for eating/sleeping on the Cabot Trail itself. Finding a place open/available (we found a spot that had incredible reviews online, but it was over an hour wait just to get a table!) for supper was more challenging than we imagined, but we finally managed to get some takeout pizza (I ate food we’d brought from home, see below) and retreated to our hotel room for a movie and supper. 

This was the motel we had switched to when we were forced to rebook after realizing our date error (originally, we were slated to stay at well-reviewed cabins).

There was a reason there was an opening at this motel. From water stains in the bathroom to bugs on the floor to doors that didn’t close properly, this location didn’t instill much confidence. But there was nowhere else to go and really, how bad could it be?

We woke in the night to people socializing – loudly – outside our window. When I finally got back to sleep, I woke up to the sound of torrential rain. It wasn’t a great night of sleep. I was relieved when morning arrived, and we had positive attitudes – looking forward to moving on. And then we started the shower. Within a few minutes, the entire hotel room floor was flooded in water. We could see where they had patched the plumbing and it was easy to identify the source of the leak. When John went to check out and informed the front desk of the issue, he said they didn’t even act surprised. Needless to say, we did not stay for the free breakfast and will not be returning to that location again!

day Three

Saturday was the “big” day as we had eyes on hiking the Skyline Trail, which has arguably the most famous view along the Cabot Trail. I’ve already written an entire post about this adventure. We hiked the whole loop, which was about 8 km, and the views were stunning.

We’d had some drizzle and fog earlier in the day, but with the tremendous views, we couldn’t have been happier. We also timed it right. When we arrived about 10:30, the parking lot was mostly empty. When we returned it was absolutely jammed with cars!

We stopped in Cheticamp and found some lighthouses, including one with a built-in slide. The kids absolutely LOVED this and spent a happy half-hour sliding and climbing. John and I each went down the slide and once was enough. Phew, it was much steeper and faster than it looked (I actually had bruises from it), but the kids knew no fear!

We walked along the Inverness Boardwalk, drove through Margaree Harbour and ended up in Port Hawkesbury for the night. We were all tired, so McDonalds across the street was our fancy supper (we took food along for at least 1 picnic meal/day). After a good night’s sleep, we hummed and hawed about going to the pool. After the disappointment of the previous hotel pool (and all the effort that goes into getting dressed, going down, and then promptly getting out), none of us was convinced. Well…we went and it was wonderful. It was warm and we had it entirely to ourselves. Levi practiced swimming from side to side, Abby did flips and tricks and we all left happy.

From there it was back to Wolfville. A fun long weekend. Lots of driving, but the kids were phenomenal (we let them watch downloaded videos on some of the longer stints, but they were mostly contented to watch the views most of the way).

A quick note about food

I was in the middle of an elimination diet (no gluten, no peanut butter, no coffee, no soy, no dairy), so I was already planning to bring along lots of food items. But, as a great way to save, we also packed food appropriate for daily picnics.

This was the main launch point for our PB&J summer – I took a package of brioche buns, a bottle of peanut butter, and a bottle of jam. We took ice, so the first day had tuna filling, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and gluten-free crackers. I also brought along things like apples and carrot sticks; we had mini-fridges at night, but these items were okay to be in the cool, but not cold, environment of the trunk. We also took nuts/seeds, dried fruit, granola bars, crackers, and tinned sardines/smoked oysters (both of which our kids love). We ate breakfast and supper out each day (I would often just piece together fruit/proteins we brought from home for myself), but ate lunches/snacks on the go which made our travel more efficient and cheaper!

I’m A Memory Keeper: Photobooks + How I Organize My Pictures.

Earlier this summer I took some time to identify things I value. It took a while to get the proverbial ball rolling but, once I did, the list kept growing. I accepted the fact that I value time alone, calm, and order. I value date nights and having 1-on-1 time with my kids. I value home aesthetics, cultural experiences, and connecting with seniors.

I also value my role as our family memory keeper and a huge component of that involves photos and photobooks.


My Dad was the resident photographer in my house growing up; he was constantly gathering us for awkwardly posed shots, especially if we had extended family visiting. The resulting photos are objectively dreadful – awkward photographs of everyone standing on the front porch, inside a museum lobby, or by our fireplace bedecked with Christmas stockings. Several people always have their eyes closed. Candid photos were not in his repertoire. But one of my favourite things to do as a kid was flip through our family photo albums. Page after page filled with memories; most fun but a few sad (rest in peace, Thumper).

As a teenager I went through a stint of scrapbooking with my older sister, but that didn’t last long (too much clutter for my liking). For years my photos mostly hung out in a digital purgatory; accessible, but not without effort and excessive screen time.

And then, when our oldest was born, I discovered photobooks.

Why Photobooks?

I love the ritual of sitting down and flipping through an album. Accessing photos digitally is fine, but I prefer when the viewing experience involves tactile senses. Because of the sheer number of photos we take each year (and would want in hard-copy), it’s prohibitive to develop them all as prints.

Enter photobooks. I often end up getting well over 1,000 pictures crammed into each book. I keep my layouts simple and use very little text. It’s a place for the photos to shine and tell the story of our life that year.

What publisher do You use?

Judging by the width of the binding, you can tell each year I just keep adding more and more pictures. I have books going all the way back to 2011, so I’ve officially hit the decade mark.

For the last 5 years I’ve been using Blurb. When MyPublisher (my original go-to) was absorbed by Shutterfly, I tried out a lot of different programs. I ended up settling on Blurb because it had desktop software that would allow me to build the book offline, dragging and dropping pictures from my desktop.

Once the book is complete, I simply upload the whole thing at once. There are great previewing features offline to help me identify layout issues, spelling mistakes, etcetera.

Blurb’s paper quality isn’t as good as some other companies (there is obvious shadowing/bleedthrough on thinner paper weights), but the reasonable prices (low per-page pricing + lots of great sales) and ability to print large books (I make books of 200+ pages) make it a great option for my needs.

How do You organize YOUR pictures?

The first step to creating a photobook…is managing your photos. There are a lot of different ways to approach this, but the following system works well for me.

  1. During each calendar month I regularly go through the photos on my phone. I’ll do this when I’m waiting in line or need to unwind for a few minutes. I’ll edit them – remove duplicates, boost the colour, straighten crooked images – before I move the best ones over to their permanent folder which leads me to #2…
  2. At the end of every month I move all my photos from that month off my iPhone and into folders in OneDrive (once they’re backed up to the cloud, I delete them off my phone).
  3. I have four master folders within each calendar year (Jan – Mar; Apr – Jun; Jul – Sept; Oct – Dec). Within each of those quarterly folders, I have a series of subfolders. For example, Oct – Dec would include folders like: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas (which would likely have further subfolders like Christmas Tree, Christmas Eve, Decorations), Levi’s Birthday, Outside Play, Friends, School, Sledding. I have a lot of nested folders. Because of the sheer number of photos we take, I find it much easier to organize photos this way. Also, if I put all of the pictures in one cateogorized place (say pictures of the kids with their friends), it’s easier to identify the best shots to highlight in the photobook. Within a photobook I often do themed pages – say a spread of an outdoor activity like sledding or skating – and will regularly have photos from various dates on a single page.
  4. I try to sift through the categorized pictures several times before the end of the year, slowly whittling it down to my absolute favourites. It makes the next step – creating a photobook – so much more efficient.

what’s your process for creating a photobook?

Tip #1. It helps to have well-organized pictures! See above, or find a system of your own that works for you.

  • I go through the year chronologically and tackle one folder/subfolder at a time. I came up with some of my own templates within Bookwright – the software from Blurb – and just drag and drop photos.

Tip #2. Have a highlights page. Some people hand-write their captions and others include long descriptors to accompany each spread. You do you. But I find having a “Highlights” page is a great way to summarize the major events from the year, leaving the pictures free to speak for themselves. I like to put a few fun pictures on this page to signify special memories.

I have a Highlights page at the beginning of each photobook. I’ll write about how we celebrated birthdays, trips we took as a family, career milestones, and other little tidbits I don’t want to forget.
  • I really like interspersing portrait shots of the kids with detail shots of our surroundings. So a picture of the kids fishing AND a picture of their tackle box. This obviously requires capturing certain types of photos, but I do think it makes a more striking photobook. This is very much personal preference, though!
One page (of many) from Grand Lake 2020. This is all I do for captions, so the pages that follow from Grand Lake won’t have any text at all…

Tip #3. Consider using auto-fill features. If you’re not particularly fussed about having things “just so,” there are some great auto-fill modes for most photobook companies where you can dump in photos and they’ll arrange them chronologically or by theme. I’ve never used these features, but know others do with great success.

this sounds like a lot of work!

It is. The way I do things, it generally takes about 30-40 hours (!!) to complete a book. This doesn’t include the many hours spent taking, editing, and organizing photos. 40 hours is a lot of time to dedicate to a single project. But it’s a labour of love and I genuinely enjoy the process (most of the time; even for me it can start feeling tedious after a while).

It can also be significantly faster! Some of the auto-fill features could help you create a book in under an hour. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the done. Most companies now allow you to hire a designer to help you create the books; some even provide subscription monthly books. (I’d hate having that many separate books, but a friend of mine did exactly that. She was living in New Zealand with her newborn and made monthly photobooks and had them shipped to both sets of grandparents who were living back in Canada).

Grand Lake 2019 – the year of drone shots and visiting cousins…

How much does this all cost?

Photobooks can be pricy, but to me they are worth every penny.

I usually pay for a hardcover photo-wrap cover. It’s a few steps above the basic softcover option, but there are other premium features available. You can buy matching protective sleeves, get the book bound in linen or other fabrics and more. There are different gauges of paper, each with their own price point (which can impact the final cost significantly). You can get lay-flat pages (beautiful but expensive and almost always severely limits page count), gloss vs. matte, and various other upgrades and tweaks.

I like to highlight favourite pictures, so don’t necessarily maximize the space on pages. I like uncluttered aesthetics and am happy to pay more for extra pages to get the desired effect.

With Blurb I typically opt for one of their more expensive paper options (still some bleedthrough, but better than the basic paper), but always wait for a sale. Sometimes I’ll sit on a completed book for over a month. I have never had to order a book with less than 30% off; I’ve even managed to combine promotions and get a percentage off + free shipping.

Last year my book, with a discount and including shipping, was $115 CAD. Not bad for a custom photobook with 1,000+ pictures. I’d pay double that without hesitation.


I’m deeply nostalgic. I love photos and I love my crew. Put it all together and what have you got – a permanent position for me as head memory-keeper, with photobooks being one of my greatest allies.

Destination Nova Scotia: Cape Breton’s Skyline Trail

Despite growing up in Nova Scotia I’ll shamefully admit, at one point, I didn’t realize Cape Breton was actually a part of my home province. Separated from the mainland by a causeway, that short stretch of rock and asphalt marks a dramatic shift in topography.

With my geographic ignorance remedied, I traveled to numerous other provinces – and outside Canadian borders – long before I found my way to Cape Breton.

It was worth the wait.


My first experience on Cape Breton soil was a whirlwind trip as a newlywed. In the throes of busy work and graduate schedules, my husband and I spent a single night on the island, driving the entire Cabot Trail in less than a day, with only a few pit stops en route. It was Thanksgiving, a popular time to wind along the coast of Cape Breton, known for its stunning fall foliage.

Fast forward a decade and it felt like we were past due for a return trip. We made the decision quickly – pulling kids from school on a Thursday afternoon, taking a day of vacation, and booking three nights on the Trail (with mixed success; stay tuned).

Once again we made our trek in fall, this time pre-Thanksgiving so the colours weren’t yet in full display but it was lovely nevertheless.


Of the various iconic stops along the Cabot Trail, the Skyline Trail rises to the top. A well-maintained loop measuring about 7 km, the views are dramatic and panoramic.

It was an easy walk for the kids and the main trail is accessible by stroller. The viewing platforms are not – there are many, many stairs that could be quite treacherous if conditions were wet or windy. We arrived on a cool, damp day and were all very glad to have warm coats and ear protection and I kept a close eye on the kids at all times.

It really was a view of a lifetime, and I’d love to return for a sunset someday. From what I’ve seen, they are spectacular. But even on a drizzly, chilly day, the view we were rewarded with wasn’t half bad at all, especially when two cute kiddos filled up part of the frame.

*As you can deduce from the photos, this is rugged terrain. There is very little development, aside from roadways, and it is a place known for wildlife. It is not uncommon to encounter moose and bear. Very sadly, in 2009, there was a fatal coyote attack on the Skyline Trail (at the time, the only fatal coyote attack recorded in Canada). Numerous measures have been taken to mitigate the issue, but this is home to many animals – a fact that must always be respected not only for their survival but also for our safety. It’s always wise to hike with others, avoid consuming food on the trail, and always carry a walking stick and a whistle or other noise-making device.

Travel on a Budget: Food, Entertainment, & Souvenirs

This is where saving money gets fun! Airfare and accommodations are pretty…boring (to me at least), though they certainly pack the biggest fiscal punch.

While saving money on getting there frees up funds for activities on the ground, adventures can feel even more memorable when I know we’ve done it economically.

Of course, the internet is full of people that devote themselves to this sort of thing with far more experience than I can offer so, again, take my advice for what it’s worth. Use what’s valuable and leave the rest.

ways to save money on food

I love food but am not particularly fussy. I’m not motivated by fine dining but do like to eat like “locals” when exploring a new location. When you see a steady stream of morning commuters popping in to the same coffee shop, chances are it’s good!

  • Find a grocery store. This is one of the best ways to save money on food. Fruit, breakfast items (see below), drinks and even some basic meals (salads, subs) can often be found for a fraction of the price.
  • Bring a light daypack along. If you’re interested in carrying some meals/lunches, it makes life so much easier to have something compact to transport the grub.
  • Look for accommodations with a breakfast option included – or create your own (regardless of whether you have a kitchenette). In Australia we bought two tubs of blueberry yogurt and a few boxes of granola. We stashed the yogurt in our little fridge and ate heaping bowls sprinkled with granola and fresh fruit for breakfast…every day (I happen to enjoy eating the same thing over and over again).
  • If your hotel doesn’t include breakfast, and you’re not keen to prepare your own, look to eat a large, late breakfast and late afternoon supper (when you might still be able to get lunch deals). Two larger meals also cuts down on the amount spent on surcharges and gratuities.
  • Pack a lunch. Usually sourcing things from a local grocery store, we buy sandwich materials (wraps or soft buns are more palatable and easier to transport than sliced bread) like cheese and sliced meat and make picnic lunches that will fit in our daypack. Bring along a few Ziploc baggies to hold apples, crackers, carrot sticks and other fingerfoods that travel well with minimal refrigeration.
  • Go for water; drinks (even non-alcoholic) can really add up on a grocery or restaurant bill. We always bring our own water bottles and many hotels lobbies (pre-Covid at least) have water jugs that you can use to refill bottles.
Consider going for the water, unless it’s hot chocolate that looks like this. Hot chocolate that looks like this is worth almost any price.
Our bill after a 3-course meal at a lovely little family-owned restaurant in the Latin Quarter. 46€
  • Look for things off the main thoroughfare. In NYC we discovered a hole-in-a-wall sushi joint (apparently a favourite of Michael Buble’s) by looking at reviews online. Because it wasn’t on the main strip, prices were considerably lower but it was absolutely delicious. As a bonus, before the meal they distributed hot faceclothes which felt amazing after exploring the city on foot for 10 hours.
  • Make food part of the entertainment. Wait in line outside Magnolia’s to get one of their world-famous cupcakes. Eat poutine and maple candy in Canada. Eat authentic sushi in Japan. Buy an eclair while strolling the Champs-Élysées. Go to the beer garden during Oktoberfest. Also, sitting and people watching can be as much fun as taking a roller coaster ride or strolling through a museum (perhaps especially at Oktoberfest).
  • Make one meal special. We usually choose supper. We tend to go, go, go all day. We economize on daytime meals, and supper feels like a nice time to relax both our bodies and the grip on our wallet.

Look for free museums/experiences or combo deals

A lot of museums have special rates, free entrance, or other incentives that allow you to save money. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for instance, operates under a pay-what-you-wish mandate.

  • Consider packages (but take the time to do your math). You can get sightseeing bus tickets that offer free entrance at an assortment local landmarks. These typically have a limitied shelf-life of 24-48 hours. Depending on your itinerary these can be a great deal. We’ve never opted for this option because they tend to involve 1 or 2 high-quality attractions and then a dozen or so “throw-aways”. I don’t want to get lost in the weeds of going places that aren’t a priority just so I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.
  • A related option is combo entrance tickets; these tend to be two locations that are relatively well-aligned. For instance, in Paris we wanted to visit Musee d’Orsay and for a marginal increase we could get a combo ticket to the Musée de l’Orangerie. This was a great decision – it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.

  • Explore discounts for special demographics. Students, seniors, military personnel and a range of other groups often qualify for reduced rates at many cultural locations.
  • In terms of entertainment, consider day-of tickets. Broadway is a great spot to test this out. We ended up with front row seats to Newsies (though any seat would have been amazing), and booked the tickets at a huge discount hours before the show. Even here, you can save. By going downtown to the South Street Seaport TKTS booth we spent less than going through the main TKTS stand in Times Square. (Now if you’re organizing an entire trip around seeing Wicked, for example, as one of my friends once did, it would be a priority to prebook the tickets). We’re back to priorities again
  • Sometimes even layovers can be long enough to fit in some special entertainment. On our way home from Denmark we flew through Iceland. We purchased tickets that gave us a long layover (we could have stayed for up to 7 days); enough time to get a deal on transport and entrance to the Blue Lagoon.
  • Research different ways to accomplish the same thing. In New York City it’s a rite of passage to get a birds-eye view of the skyline. The Empire State is iconic, but the views tend to be better (and the lines shorter and price lower) to go to the top of Rockefeller Centre. Plus, then you get a view of the Empire State Building! I also wanted to go high in Paris (not easy to do). It felt a bit counterprodutive to go up the Eiffel Tower – because what one really wants to see from a high perspective is the Eiffel Tower itself. So we did the Arc de Triomphe instead, along with the roof-top terrance on Galeries Lafayette (which happens to be free).
Our Top of the Rock tour was so much fun.
View from the Arc…
Free (!) view from the top of Galeries Lafayette.

souvenirs

Souvenirs can be a great reminder of happy travel memories. They can also be a major source of clutter and typically aren’t going to translate well in terms of the financial investment. Tourist trap souvenirs tend to be of poor quality, with inflated prices, that are likely destined for the garbage bin.

My advice. Invest a bit more to buy something meaningful. Some of our favourite souvenirs:

  • Pictures, pictures, pictures. They are almost always free and a provide a treasure trove of memories for years to come. Invest in printing off your favourite shots and frame them. What about setting up a rotating gallery wall of photos from your most recent vacations? The two photos below are part of a Paris trio we printed off and hung in our basement hallway.
We didn’t go into Notre Dame (we were visiting shortly after the catastrophic fire) but the pictures were free…and gorgeous.
We never set foot in this Parisian shop, but sure loved the photo opportunity.

  • I buy engineering prints from Staples (about $4 per print), plus inexpensive frames from IKEA.
Some of our favourite photos from Nova Scotia destinations hanging in our guest room (engineering prints in Ikea frames; less than $75 all-in). Peggy’s Cove, Cape Sable, Cape Forchu.
  • Local art. This can be tricky, especially if you’re only bringing a carry-on. Small prints, posters that come in cardboard tubes, and textiles can all be transported in pristine condition while requiring minimal space. Souvenirs don’t have to be things to hang on walls or in closets. We bought van Gogh coasters from Musee d’Orsay and I still get a thrill everytime I use them (we happened to need coasters, too, so it wasn’t just excess clutter). Hand-crafted jewlery or a knitted scarf made from locally sourced wool could make a fun piece of wearble memorabilia.
van Gogh coasters (there are 6 total) + my new White Point mug.
  • Reusable canvas bags. This is one of my favourite things to give and receive. They’re easy to pack up to bring home, make great gifts, and even high-quality ones tend to be relatively inexpensive. A friend brings me back new Trader Joe’s bags every time she visits California. In a sea of local grocery chain bags, I love how my unique bags stand out.
  • Don’t assume people want random stuff from your trip. If you’re bringing something home, ask in advance if people have preferences.
  • Consumables. Buy strombowaffles in the Netherlands, macarons in France, maple syrup in Canada. Buy a face mask from the Red Sea or chocolate from Belgium. Buy things you can appreciate and then use up!
  • Send postcards. This is a great way to tell someone you were thinking of them. They’re inexpensive, it’s always fun to get mail, and they can be easily disposed of once the sentiment has been adequately conveyed (aren’t we trying to tell people: “We were here, we thought of you;” a postcard is a much cheaper alternative to the “Someone Who Loves Me Very Much Bought This in Mexico” T-shirt).
  • Start a collection. One of my aunt collects demitasse cups whereever she goes. She has a specific item she’s looking for in any destination which takes the guess work out of what to buy.
  • Consider keeping location-specific paraphenlia. A friend of mine sent me speciality tea from New Zealand that came in a very unique metal tin; this is now what I use to store bobby pins. When we visited Tivoli Gardens, the third oldest amusement park in the world, my brother bought us all hot chocolate. It came in these adorable Tivoli-branded plastic cups. You could return them and get back a few cents deposit…or keep them and drink out of them for years to come at home. We opted for the latter.
Tivoli hot chocolate.
  • If buying clothes (which can be a great memento), get things you’ll actually wear. We bought our son a shirt from Paris and another from the Dominican Republic. They were his style and he’s gotten a lot of use from them.
One of my favourite pictures of the kids from 2020, with Levi rocking his Paris, France t-shirt (which is decidedly too small now but one of his favourites).
  • Bring home something familiar but from a new location. We like to visit LEGO stores abroad and bring some home – LEGO is always a hit in our house, regardless of where it was sourced.

There are lots of ways to save when traveling – at macro and micro levels. Remember your priorities. Maybe it’s going to drain a lot of fun out of your trip if you’re rationalizing how much to spend on food for a day, but you’re more than happy to swap out for a cheaper hotel room. You do you and look for ways to save along the way. It can actually make the whole experience more enriching and satisfying.

…and your credit card statement called to say thanks in advance.

Travel on a Budget: Transport & Accommodations

Half of the adventure is getting to the destination, right? Unless, of course, you’re driving across the country in a car with small children when it can feel more like a nightmare (or not).

Regardless of your feelings on the matter, the journey is a major part of the final bill. Typically the biggest expenditures for a trip, transport and accommodations are great ways to save and tend to offer the biggest bang for your buck when attempting to travel frugally. I, for one, like to save as much money as I can for memory-making experiences once I’m on terra firma.


An important first step is to identify your priorities – yes even for the more mundane logistics of transport and accommodations. Maybe you want to spend extra points to get that upgrade to first class or maybe you can’t swing a 3 am departure; maybe access to a heated pool and sauna at your hotel is part of what will make a trip most enjoyable. Maybe you want (or need) to be right next to the amusement park or beach, regardless of price.

In no particular order, here are some of the things we’ve done through the years to reduce the overall cost of transport and accommodations.

Maximize loyalty/points programs

For over a decade now we’ve been collecting Aeroplan points (we each have Aeroplan loyalty cards + credit cards linked to Aeroplan). These have helped fund the majority of our trips. My father-in-law is set to visit soon: 9,400 points + $95. Our couples trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago: 200,000 points + $1,000 for a whole week (this was for flights and accommodation). Our (COVID-cancelled) trip to South Carolina for our family of 4: 60,000 points + $320 – we may never manage to recreate that deal.

$1000 for a week of this – everything in.

We don’t muddy the waters with a lot of different credit cards, but there is lots of material out there to help people navigate the options if this sort of thing is up your alley. We have a friend who is constantly joining new programs/signing up for new credit cards and has figured out a way to maximize the system to fund first-class airfare and more luxurious hotels.

  • For us, going with a single points program and doubling up when possible (some stores are Aeroplan partners + we pay with our Aeropoint-linked Visa so we get double points) really works. Beyond that feels like too much effort. You do you.
  • Airlines also offer rewards to regular customers; if you travel frequently for work, try booking through a single airline to accrue status miles (sometimes different airlines will belong to a central alliance, so booking through a “sister” airline will also go toward points/status). Thanks to pre-COVID travel for work John qualifies for Air Canada Super-Elite status which gives him – and the rest of the family – a host of upgrades, extra checked baggage, and cheaper options for many flights (i.e. he needs to redeem fewer points to purchase tickets).

find ways to combine work + leisure

This is likely our biggest hack and not something everyone can leverage. But, when it works, it’s a great cost-savings.

  • When possible, combine work travel with leisure. Stay an extra day or two on your own dime after a conference is over. Or, tag along with your spouse and explore the town while he/she attends to relevant work responsibilities, reconvening when convenient.

Our very first trip of this sort happened back in 2011. We were poor. Both pursuing Master’s degrees and newly married, I was invited to speak at an entomology conference in Orlando. My flights, meals, and hotel were only covered for the duration of the conference and we had a tight budget beyond that. John flew down on points (of course).

One of my labmates happened to mention her grandfather owned a condo in Sarasota and he was willing to let us use it for free. Yes please! We flew down a week early, rented a very inexpensive car, and spent several days in Sarasota. We bought $70 of groceries at Publix and ate one supper at an Olive Garden and another at a very, very sketchy buffet. The rest we fit into my per diem budget.

We walked on beaches (a priority and free) and went to the Ringling Museum on Monday – the day my research supervisor informed me it was free.

I had a per diem for food and accommodations in Orlando, so we found a hotel for $40/night slightly off the beaten track. It was only 5 minutes from the resort where the conference was taking place. Since we already had a rental car, we could easily look for a cheaper hotel (the conference was directly across the street from Disney, so room prices were much higher onsite, but that’s where most attendees stayed).

When the dust settled, a week in Florida for 2 people – including flights, meals, excursions, and accommodations – cost us less than $500.

On our trip to Kennedy Space Centre (the entrance ticket was good for 2 days, so we went twice on a single ticket). We saw a shuttle on the launch pad and met an astronaut.

Look at different flight options

This may sound intuitive, but sometimes small changes (later/earlier arrival times, flying on a different day) can make a huge difference to the bottom line.

If you’re at all flexible on the dates/times, it’s worth hunting around for a few minutes to see if Tuesday at 5 am is $300 cheaper than Monday at 11 am.

Take less stuff

Okay, some habits die hard.

My husband went to Australia for a month with only a single carry-on and laptop bag. This was for work, admittedly, and he was staying in a rental with laundry facilities, but this minimalist packing is doable for more leisurely vacations too.

Perks: no checked baggage fees and no concerns about lost luggage (and the potential cost of replacing items if luggage doesn’t get found quickly enough). Also, having less stuff just feels great on vacation.

Our carry-on still had room for Chicky – a little foam chick our daughter decorated and sent with us on our travels. Here’s Chicky posing in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. This little friend traveled to many places before she retired in 2019.

Accommodations

We often research accommodations (and if they’re being covered as part of a work trip, even better) more than anything else. With some extra digging, we usually find very affordable options.

  • I don’t need a fancy bathroom or spacious room. Clean and safe are my only two requirements. This is a HUGE place to save. To me, a hotel room exists for sleep and as a safe place to store belongings.

Not surprisingly, proximity to the downtown core can be a huge determinant of nightly rates. Both times we visited New York City we actually stayed in New Jersey. It was $88/night at the Super8 in North Bergen, a price hard to beat. We took a shuttle that dropped us off near Times Square. There was nothing special about the hotel, but it was clean and felt (relatively) safe. It was walking distance to a grocery store (a great way to save money on food) and had an edible Continental Breakfast (another great way to save money on food). Would I have preferred to roll out of bed and be in the heart of Manhatten? Absolutely. Was it worth $100’s extra over the course of our stay? To us, the answer was a definite no.

Our biggest coup came with our hotel in Paris. It was in the 9th arrondissement – a solid location – for $110 CAD/night (including all the hospitality fees and levies)!! It cost us almost double to get a night in a sketchy motel room along the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia that including a morning flood (story coming soon).

Hotel Touraine Opéra was one of my favourite hotel stays ever – and housed what seemed to be the world’s most comfortable bed. Large by Parisian standards, our room was simple but checked every box. There was a grocery store across the street, a shuttle to and from the airport, and it was very, very clean! Check, check, check.

A stone’s throw from the Opera House it was, admittedly, a fair trek to some of the most notable landmarks. But for $110 CAD/night, it was hard to beat the economy of it all.
  • A bad hotel can be truly terrible and could ruin a vacation. In terms of accommodation reviews – look for themes. Noise issues, cleanliness and safety violations – when things of that ilk come up repeatedly it’s a giant a red flag. But if someone says the heated pool was too cold for their liking, I’m not much bothered by that sort of information (unless, of course, my priority is having a nice, warm hotel pool).
  • The best arrangement, though, is free. I have a brother that has lived in Europe for over a decade now; he’s had a steady stream of North American company in that time. Having free accommodations is a great way to shrink expenditures on vacation.
My brother’s old apartment was located above this set of shops in Copenhagen. There was a bakery directly across the street. The smell of fresh pumpernickel bread and Danish pastries coming out of there was the real deal. The whole scene felt like something out of a picture book.

Take public transit + WAlk

Okay, okay, can you tell we love walking? We might be a bit biased on this one, but it’s hard to argue that public transit and walking are the cheapest way to navigate an urban destination. When the kids were younger and in tow we’d find ways to borrow strollers, and the Ergo helped with many nap on-the-go moments.

Abby, asleep in the Ergo, at The National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst). We went on a day with free admission – and we walked. No doubt we packed a picnic to enjoy later in the day.

You can get creative – we took a public bus to Bondi Beach and water taxis to Watson’s Bay; John has done hop-on/hop-off busses in France and NYC; we did trains, buses and bikes almost daily in Copenhagen. Lots of places now rent electric scooters which look very fun (and very economical).

why we’re a big fan of walking tours

Yet another plug for walking, but we’ve had great success with walking tours. Look for ones that have local hosts; these are often a pay-what-you-can donation style. It’s a great way to explore the city at minimal cost and the tour guides are usually happy to share lots of nuggets of wisdom, including ones that can translate into real cost-savings (you should try this diner, it has the best $3 burger in town; this museum is free on Friday’s after 8 pm).


Logistics aren’t always much fun when planning a trip, but they’re undeniably necessary and can consume a huge portion of a vacation budget. Once you’ve identified your priorities, see where that puts you in terms of budgeting. Maybe some priorities need to get shifted (can you make do without a hotel pool, or can you get a 1-week subway pass instead of relying on cabs) to free up monies for something fun when you’re on the ground?

Getting there can be half the fun; even if it isn’t, it doesn’t have to break the bank.