Continuing my series on Quebec and why it should be on your travel bucket list. For my other posts on places to visit in Quebec, see earlier posts on Montreal and the Eastern Townships.
Last Minute Adventure
So what’s the fun of moving to a new place that is full of exciting things to do if you don’t go explore them? A few amazing pics on Instagram of hanging out with a giant snowman while zipping down toboggan slides in front of a château was all it took to convince me that I absolutely must to go to Quebec City’s annual Bonhomme Winter Carnival. Like now. After all, it is one of the world’s most visited winter carnivals and i live practically next door. However, since it was last minute, I figured that a hotel room was going to require us to start renting out the cat for hourly pet sessions over the next 6 months. I hopped on my favorite hotel booking site booking.com and, peeking out from between fingers, was pleasantly surprised to find super affordable options, including one at Hotel 71 where we have previously stayed and loved. So while hugging a giant snowman and sipping hot chocolate in front of fires did not have my hubby jumping up and down, the fact that we would be a hop, skip, and a jump away from one of his favorite cross-country ski areas did. So after some very fast and poor packing (I should have followed my own packing tips) I was on my way to start stalking a giant, walking, talking snowman.
Why Quebec City is Super Cool
So if you didn’t know, Quebec City is a UNESCO world heritage site and is like a little piece of Europe in North America. The fact that is it French-speaking only adds to that charm and the feeling of being on another continent. Founded over 400 years ago, in the 17th century, it was the capital of New France and later the British colony. It is one of the only fortified cities in North America (you have to go to Mexico to find the others), which means you have to enter and exit the city through the amazing gates.
Day 1: Carnival Fun
One of the first things to do when arriving is purchase in Effigy, which is the pass that will give you access to all the carnival events. It is affordable (it was $15 for 2018) and can be found almost anywhere including hotels, restaurants, and shops. We purchased ours at the hotel front desk before heading out.
Ok, first things first…find that slide! Located in front of the Chateau Frontenac and overlooking the Saint Lawrence River it’s only $3 per person to slide down and it was every bit as fun as I thought it would be. We even went back to slide down at night.
After warming up with some French Onion Soup we set off to explore the rest of the events and hunt down the Bonhomme (name of the legendary snowman). We did find him and while I was on a mission for a selfie with him it would have required that I throw some elbows with 3-year-olds and that just didn’t seem like the best choice, so I had to settle for cozying up to the statue version.
We toured the International Snow Sculpture exhibit where there were teams from all over the world still working on their pieces. It was really cool to see these teams creating these amazing pieces of art (even if only temporary) from lumps of snow.
Throughout Petit Champlain, there were ice sculptures to enjoy and they even made a throne to welcome me to the carnival!
And I even tried to morph into a snowman (didn’t work).
We took an evening tour of the Ice Palace that included an awesome light show and fun music as we bee-bopped our way through:
And at the end of the night, we warmed up with wine at the super cool 1608 bar in the Chateau Frontenac. With a fabulous panoramic view of the Saint Lawrence River, it’s the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink.
Note: We did miss out on the night parade which is supposed to be spectacular so I don’t recommend missing it. But after our warm-up pre-dinner drinks and with a 10-minute drive, we decided it would give us a good reason to return next year.
Day 2: Mont Sainte Anne and Parc de la Montmorency
One day was plenty of time to get the full carnival experience (although I did kind of want to do the toboggan sled just one more time). The second day we opted to go a little north-east of the city to go skiing in Mont Sainte Anne, which is one of the well-known ski areas in Quebec. We opted for cross-country skiing (classic for me, skate ski for Philippe) but there is also great downhill skiing. I have yet to master the skill of hurtling downhill at 50+ mph with 2 sticks strapped to my feet.
It only takes 45 minutes to get there from Quebec City so it is very easy to do as a day trip if you are staying in Quebec City for more than a weekend.
On our way home we stopped at Parc de la Montmorency which has the highest waterfall in Quebec (even higher than Niagara Falls). We rode the gondola to the top where we took a short hike to the suspension bridge that goes over the top of the falls. We didn’t get to spend much time there since the park was closing, but we will definitely be back in the summer to spend more time hiking and exploring the area, which was once an economic center of Quebec.
Due to the condensation, the sides of the waterfall become massive frozen sheets of ice and it is a very popular place for ice climbing. However, this is a sport that I am happier to observe with my feet planted firmly on the ground!
So there you have it, a winter weekend in Quebec City!
Planning & Packing Tips
Where to Stay: I definitely recommend staying in Old Quebec City. This is the area with all the charm and character from the long history of the city. Staying in the old town will allow you to walk everywhere, avoid paying to park each time you want to come back into town, and battling for parking spaces.
Food: Quebec City is full of good restaurants and while there is a heavy lean toward French cuisine you can find many options. Very few restaurants require reservations so if they have availability you will get right in. Some of the local Quebec cuisines include poutine, pate chinois, and you can’t miss sampling the maple products. And of course, due to the French influence, the pastries there are really, really good so I definitely recommend finding a boulangerie and grabbing some fresh croissants in the morning!
Language: Quebec City is strongly French (one of the reasons I love it) and while many people in the tourist parts do speak some English, do not automatically assume that everyone speaks English. However, communication is not a problem and even if you only can say “Merci” and “Bonjour” you will be just fine.
Currency: The currency is the Canadian Dollar which is not the same as the US Dollar. However, many places will accept US dollars if that is all you have. However, I recommend getting Canadian Dollars or using your credit cards because the exchange rate is not 1/1 and you cannot expect your server or cashier to do the conversion for you.
Cell Plans: Most major US carriers either include Canada in their plans or have a package you can add-on to include Canada. Check with your provider before leaving. Wifi is also available in most places, so connectivity should be pretty easy.
What to pack: The winter carnival is in the dead of winter so it is very likely to be very cold. Since it is on the Saint Lawrence River it can also be windy so you definitely want to pack warmly. This earlier post is full of packing tips, but in addition, you will want to make sure you pack appropriate cold weather gear:
Winter Boots with Grip Soles
Hotshot warmers for your hands and feet
I wish you a warm, cozy, and adventure-filled stay in Quebec City! It is truly a charming one-of-a-kind experience in North America. If you have any questions about planning a trip to Quebec, let me know and I will be happy to do all I can to help out!
Yippee!! For many people, it’s time to start thinking about vacation!! Time to start researching places, flights, accommodations, things to do…putting together this year’s adventure of a lifetime! I cannot wait to get started…who is with me? Anyone????
Ok, ok, so I get it…trip planning can feel like the equivalent of an avalanche barreling down on you at a 100 mph. But boy, I do love to plan a trip and, like any good type-A personality, I have a process for adventure planning. By the time we are airport bound we have a game plan to be excited about and fewer things to be stressed about.
Going on vacation is supposed to be fun and (IMHO) so should planning the vacation! It should be the big anticipation builder that gets everyone excited. So grab a glass of wine and let me share a few of my tips & tricks that should make planning your next vacation (at least a bit more) exciting!
I created a Vacation Planning Workbook to help you plan your perfect getaway. Grab your free guide below, add a glass of wine and plan away!
So the world is a pretty big place, which brings up the question, how on earth (pun intended) do you pick what corner should be explored? So the first thing to decide, in conjunction with your vacation sidekicks, is what type of trip you want to have. This is a big topic for us each year when we start to plan vacations. We spend a lot of time chatting about what we want to experience with our trips which helps to narrow down the target locations. Exploring all the options can be pretty fun!
I pulled together a list of questions that are good vacation exploration conversation starters.
Question 1: What type of trip are you planning?
Boys or girls trip
Question 2: What is the length of the trip?
Two weeks or longer
Question 3: What types of location(s) is preferred?
Question 4: What regions of the world are preferred?
Question 5: What are the weather and timing preferences?
Question 6: What type of accommodations are preferred?
Adventure accommodations: camping, camper car, tree house, boat, etc.
Question 7: What types of experience(s) are you interested in?
Chilling in one place
Adventures seeking: Hiking, biking, yoga, boating, paragliding, etc.
Relaxing: spa, pool, reading, etc.
Cultural activities: Museums, historic monuments, theatres, etc
Educational experience: Learning a new skill or hobby such as a foreign language or organic farming
Fashion & Shopping: Checking out the latest in the fashion world
Question 8: What is the budget?
Luxury: Going all out of this trip and expenses are not a primary concern.
Comfort: Travel in relative comfort but no need to be extravagant.
Budget: Watching the dollars and it’s more about the experiences.
Being on the same page with your travel sidekicks for what you want out of your vacation is important. These are the types of questions that will impact the destination you choose and the itinerary you create.
Tip to Make it Fun: One fun idea is to host a tapas and wine evening with your fellow travelers, print out this list and have everyone fill it out. Then compare and see what commonalities everyone has to help pick a destination!
Right now, I am planning 3 different types of trips:
Norway: This trip is to celebrate my hubby’s 50th birthday. He prefers adventurous and active vacations (most people need a vacation from his idea of a vacation). Since his birthday is in February he wants to ski in a new and exciting location. His travel style is minimalist, off the beaten path, authentic experience with local people and culture. Because we travel a lot and want to stretch our travel dollars as far as possible, we tend to vary between budget and comfort.
Ireland: This trip is for my sister and brother-in-law to celebrate my sisters 40th birthday. They want a road trip that will allow them to see all the well-known sites of Ireland in a zippy and sporty convertible. One of their hobbies is making beer so they want to take a tour of pubs and sample plenty of pints. They want this trip to be between Comfort and Luxury budget because they don’t travel as much and are celebrating a big birthday milestone!
Amazing Beach Destination (TBD): This is a girls trip that will be a long weekend to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of the best friends of my sister and me. She wants a relaxing and gorgeous beach location that is a new destination for the 3 of us. She doesn’t want to think too much and come home feeling recharged and refreshed for life with her toddler. Our budget for this trip is comfort.
So you can see how planning the details of these from accommodations, transportation, food, and activities will be very different. If I tried to plan any of these vacations without this info it would likely just turn into wasted time. But now that I know, I am full steam ahead to present viable options to the travelers.
So once you pick the destination of your adventure, if traveling abroad there is the (not so minor) detail of travel document requirements. While it has not happened to me, I have had several friends get to the airport only to discover they could not get on the plane because their international travel documents were not in order. Literally a vacation killer!
Both the US and Canada enjoy some of the highest travel flexibility in the world. However, you should still always verify the requirements before booking your dates to ensure you have plenty of time to get your documentation together.
Passports: Of course if you don’t have one…get one. But in addition, many countries have a time frame for accepting passports that are close to expiration. Usually, this timeframe is within 3 – 6 months of expiration. However, it does vary by country so make sure you double check the expiration date on your passport and the window of acceptance of the country you are visiting.
Visa: Especially important if your trip is for an extended period but even if a shorter trip it is always a good idea to check out the requirements. If a visa is required make sure you take into account the timing and requirements of the foreign government before purchasing airfare. This is a helpful website for checking the visa requirements by always double verify with official government websites for latest information.
Immunizations: Check the requirement for immunizations for any country you are traveling to so that you get them timely and have the medical to take with you as proof. This US CDCsite that is easy to use when determining what vaccinations you may need.
Step 3: Creating a budget
If you are not high rolling on this vacation, consider creating a budget. Ok, so for some maybe a bit over the top type-A, but I find it to be a stress saver for:
Managing expectations on how much money will be spent and how it will be spent.
Providing transparency to everyone funding the trip which can be especially important if you are traveling with people who will be splitting costs.
Alleviating financial anxiety while on vacation.
Tip: Making a budget can double as a tiebreaker. In the past, when torn between destinations a budget helped us make the final decision. At least I find this to be a better decision-making method than a rousing game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
So what to include in a budget? Well, this CPA (that would be me!) is more than happy to help out with that (you could call it my expertise :-)!
Arrival and Departure Transportation: Cost of airplane tickets, train tickets, or gas if driving your car.
Destination Transportation: Some typical expenses can include rental car and gas, public transportation passes, or even train/plane tickets if you are location hopping.
Accommodation: Cost can vary vastly depending on where you are staying, but also can have a big impact on your vacation experience. Typically this is where the balancing act between cost and desired experience can be the most tricky. So check your options across hotels, AirBnb, hostels/guesthouses, campsites, campervan etc. to determine where and how to stay for your vacation.
Entertainment: Cost of places you want to visit, events you will attend, or activities/experiences you want to have. These can add up quickly so if you are in a situation of picking and choosing knowing cost could help with making a decision.
Food & Alcohol: This is one expense area that can sneak up on you since eating is pretty much required regardless of which corner of the earth you are in. Especially if you are on a budget this is also one area where you can have the most control. For example, opting for an AirBnb with access to a kitchen can really help control costs by cooking some meals as opposed to always eating out.
Cell Phone Plan: If traveling internationally it is likely that you will need access to your phone and if you are outside of a major city, relying on wifi could be tricky. For more information on cell service when traveling internationally, check out this earlier post.
Souvenirs: Plan for any shopping or keepsakes you want to bring back with you. I have this one in here because there is nothing I love to say more than “Oh this…I got it at this great little boutique in Paris”. I just need to know if I am planning to spend $100 or $1000 on this adorable piece of something before my “shopping spree” begins.
Tip: If you are traveling with others and splitting expenses there are some great apps that keep track of split costs and allocates to each party, eliminating stress over who owes what. At the end of the trip, it is much easier than digging through a pile of receipts. I have used both Splitwise and Share-a-Bill apps and can recommend either since they function similarly and are easy to use.
Step 4: Booking a Flight
Booking a flight can be one of the most stressful parts of the trip. Forever in search of the perfect combo of price and itinerary, hours can be spent hunting the perfect flight.
Trip Timing: Having flexibility in your trip timing can be a big price saver. So if you have flexibility take into account: :
High Season vs. Low Season: Not arriving at the peak of high season will help to minimize cost not only with the plane ticket but often with the whole trip. Plus you don’t have to battle all the crowds!
Day flexibility: Fares can vary drastically by day and most sites will let you compare prices on flex days (or if they don’t find use another site). There have been many times we have saved several hundred dollars just by flying a day earlier or later than our initial plan.
Finding Affordable Flights: Ok, so this might be the task that is the most dreaded (me included) but can save some serious $$$ in the travel budget. A new discount air tracker is always popping up, but some of our favs right now are:
Google Flights: So easy to look at pricing months out, easy to compare price by destination, and they aggregate across most of the airlines. Plus they have this cool “I’m feeling lucky” feature that will randomly select a place (I love seeing what they come up with).
Momondo: One of the most popular flight and pricing aggregators currently out there, another great option for flight searches.
Kiwi: We just used this site to book our Norway trip and we ended up paying 50% less than originally budgeted by being flexible on which days of the week we flew.
Airfare Sale e-Mail lists: Ok, so this is possibly one of the coolest ways to stumble upon an unexpected trip or even find an awesome fare on a planned trip (like we just did with Norway!). I totally recommend signing up for them:
Scott’s Cheap Flights: My current fav, so easy to use and I love to see what places drop into my inbox daily. I currently use the free subscription but am likely going to upgrade to the premium because the cost is nothing compared to the potential savings.
Delta Flash Sales, Air Canada Destination Offers (or whichever airline you hold frequent flyer miles or can use credit card miles). I had a friend just book tickets on Delta to Turks & Caicos for 8,000 points round trip (that is seriously nothing!)
TPG, The Points Guy: Not only great tips on airfare but general tips on maximizing your travel dollars and experience.
While we mostly travel on Delta and Air Canada and have status perks, we are not so loyal to them or their partner programs that we will pass up an awesome airfare on another airline (some travel-holics are stringent about it, but not us). So which camp you fall into is totally up to you, both have perks.
Step 5: Booking Accommodations
Choosing your type of accommodation has a huge influence on your vacation and just like buying a house the most important thing is location, location, location to keep you close to your activities and desired experience.
Do you want the option to cook or no freaking way…you are on vacation it is someone else’s turn to cook!
Have maid service each day or do you own tidying up?
Sharing a room with others or opt for a bit of privacy?
Be easily accessible to your activities or commuting a bit isn’t a problem.
We don’t go all out on accommodation expense since we are not there to hang out in a room. To fit into the flow of our vacation, the items most important to us are location, cleanliness, and price. Like airfare, there are tons of sites/apps to find a place to stay. There are the traditional ones such as Expedia, Priceline, Trivago, or Kayak that are great for hooking you up with a hotel/motel/resort.
But, to be honest, we rarely stay in a traditional hotel/motel setting when traveling. There are too many unique experiences to have so I rarely use those sites for finding accommodations. Instead, apps/sites we love are those that allow us to discover hidden gems:
AirBnb: We love AirBnb because unlike any hotel or resort it allows you to live amongst the locals. Plus you can customize your vacation including experiences, pricing, amenities, and accommodation type. By renting a house, private room in a house, or shared room in a house you get an experience that is more authentic, local tips & tricks from your host and save money. We have never had a horrible experience (sure some were better than others) with AirBnb and as early adopters of the concept have been using it for years.
AirBnb Tip: Always read the property description and rules for any place you are considering reserving. Read at least a sampling of the reviews that were left by previous travelers. These are the best ways to ensure that you are aware of what your experience will be like. Also, always leave a review after your stay. AirBnb is a social platform that relies on feedback to make sure that future travelers have a great experience too.
Booking.com: So amongst the plethora of hotel/motel aggregators and booking sites things I love about this site include:
I have never found another site that beat their pricing
Once your account is set up booking is super easy (account setup is easy too),
Just in case it is needed, the cancellation is generally crazy flexible. The site is super clear about the property cancellation policy before you book and they even send an email reminder when the cancellation deadline is coming up (seriously cool, right?).
Not only does booking.com have hotels and motels they have smaller local accommodations as well such as B&Bs, hostels, and guesthouses.
By pairing AirBnb with Booking.com, we get the full range of accommodations available to us.
Tip: Before booking a location use Google street view to check out the neighborhood. This is great for getting a sneak peek at the surrounding area for your home away from home.
Un-Ordinary Vacation Tip: Some of the best vacations can be adventure accommodations such as a camper car to hop from place to place, camping in really cool places, staying in a tree house, or renting an airstream on a beach. If you are at all interested in checking out vacation with a bit of a twist check out the options on AirBnb, people have come up with some really inventive ideas!
Step 6: Destination Transportation
Whoo Hoo! Vacation is booked, flights, accommodations, and you have lots to see and do. You just have to figure out how to get from place to place. Of course, your need for transportation is going to depend on your vaca itinerary.
Public Transportation: I love a city with good public transportation…LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. It makes it so easy-peasy to get around a city quickly, efficiently, and affordably. These days navigating public transportation almost stress-free. Most large cities have their own public transportation apps, so between those and Google Maps this can be a no-brainer way to move around a city. Before leaving read up on the city’s public transportation options and how to buy passes once you arrive.
Bicycle: Sightseeing on a bike is becoming a bigger and bigger trend in the US, but it has been popular in destinations like Europe for many years. I also love a city with a bike rental system. These systems allow you to rent bikes for short-term periods either for free or minimal cost. You can pick up and drop off a bike at stations around the city (a concept the same as a bus or metro stop). If you are up for a bit of exercise, the weather is great, and you want to see the sites from behind handlebars, check to see if this option exists in your destination. Most cities will have an app for the bike system so using it is simple.
Tip: If you love the idea of exploring a place on a bike but your destination does not have a rental bike system, then look for local bike shops that rent bikes.
Rental Cars: For hopping from town to town the first option that comes to mind is renting a car. Before renting a car abroad read up to find out if an International Drivers License is required in the country(ies) you will be visiting. It is always helpful to read up on driving laws as there are always differences and they are not always posted (or even if they are, not easily decipherable). Our preferred sites for getting the best deal on rental cars are RentalCars.comand Kayak. Also, to get the best rates it is advisable to book in advance.
Buses, Planes or Trains: Other options for town hopping in some destinations, such as Europe, are buses, planes, and trains. Often very affordable if purchasing a “local” ticket there is also usually lots of flexibility with timetables. My favorite is to tour an area by train. Not only is it relaxing, it is a bit romantic/nostalgic to sit back with a glass of wine and watch the passing countryside. If in Europe my fav app/website to use for booking is GoEuro, which allows you to compare prices and times across all three transportation methods.
Scooter/Vespa: Ok, so this might be a bit personal but I am Vespa OBSESSED. O.B.S.E.S.S.E.D. So obsessed I bought one for home because it makes me feel like I am on vacation when I am zipping around on it in the summer (not the best transportation option for winter since I live in Canada). However, if you are in a destination, such as Europe, where scooters are a common transportation method and you are comfortable driving one, do it!
Step 7: Things To Do (Explore! Explore! Explore!)
Rarely on vacation is the problem boredom and a question of what to do (or if it is you should definitely be re-thinking your vacations). Instead, it is tough decision making on what won’t make the cut. At least that is usually how I feel! The excellent news is that there are so many great ways to get feedback and suggestions from those who have already “been there, done that”. This type of feedback can remove some of the guessing game and make the decision process a bit easier.
Social Media: Find travelers with similar interests to yours and discover their “can’t miss” suggestions:
Blogs: Awesome resources for more in-depth information and pics on places to see and do. Most bloggers also usually include tips and tricks that are sooo helpful to know before you get there.
Instagram: My favorite social app for travel purposes, especially now that you can follow hashtags. Follow travel Instagram accounts and hashtags for your destination to get lots of amazing pics and plenty of ideas for places to add to your itinerary.
Facebook: Use the “Looking for Recommendations” capability to get feedback from people in your network who have already made the same voyage. I am usually surprised at how many of my peeps have already traveled to the same place and have great ideas.
Pinterest: Search for your destination, then create a beautiful board to pin all of the things you would like to do. What is really great about Pinterest is that you will continue to get suggestions on new items for your board.
Official Tourism Websites: A great way not only to check out the best things to do, but also a great resource for price checking activities (including finding the free options).
Tour Companies: For activities you can’t do on your own or would be a better with an experienced person check out local tour companies. I do highly suggest reviewing cancellation policies and checking reviews before purchasing. Tripadvisoris great for checking out reviews and selecting a tour company.
So now you should have a list of all the awesome and cool things you want to do. If you need to narrow it down you now have the budget and time information you need to make decisions. Even for things that don’t make the final cut there is good news! Your adventure will still be exciting and now you have Instagram and Pinterest to live vicariously through for the missed items.
Old School Travel Tip: Even with the easy access to fantastic travel information online I do still love to buy the travel book (Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet, etc.) for a few reasons. First is that it is a great souvenir that makes me happy when I see my bookshelf with all the books from my travel destinations. Also, it is nice to have a book with you to follow along with on your trip, especially if you are in areas where wifi is not always reliable or accessible.
Do It All Tip: Since there is never time to do it all, there are two “typical tourist” activities we like to do! Insert image of a person with a camera around neck, phone on selfie-stick, following a person waving a flag here. But potentially embarrassing tourist activities aside, we find these great for getting a city overview (confession: it is pretty fun too)
Bus Tours: On the first day, take the tourist bus to get a good overview of the whole city. This is perfect if you only have a short amount of time in a place or to map out the places you like best and want to go back later on your trip to explore more in-depth.
City Pass: If there are a lot of popular attractions you want to visit, many cities offer a “city pass” or a “city tour” that you can purchase. This often gives you access to the most popular attractions at significant discounts.
Step 8: Create an Itinerary
Now that all the pieces of your trip are done, you are ready to organize into an itinerary. An itinerary for helping to make sure you are doing items close to each other on the same day (as much as possible), deciding which days to purchase any advance tickets, and prevent from wasting ½ of each day in the “So what do you want to do?” ritual.
But my best vacation tip: Be flexible! Give yourself some space for that “can’t miss” place you discover, or for the plan that doesn’t go perfectly and requires some an on-the-fly revision. Take this bit of advice coming from a self-confessed Type-A personality who loves a well-made plan! Now…go have a fabulous adventure!
If you have not downloaded the Vacation Planning Guide to help you plan your getaway now would be a perfect time!
Iceland is a unique trip for most people so preparing for it can be a bit baffling. Before our trip we were fortunate to get immensely helpful tips and tricks from friends who had previously visited. So I am combining those with the tips and tricks that we learned during our trip in hopes that this will help with the question “What exactly do I need to know about Iceland and what in the world do I pack?”
Those little things you wish you knew before you arrived that might make your trip just a bit smoother.
The local currency is the Icelandic Krona, but worry not because money is super easy over there. In fact, we didn’t have cash at all during our trip because literally everywhere accepts credit cards. Even the bathroom stalls (and you do have to pay for some of them!). This is likely because there are some very isolated areas where ATMs are not available and you would be stranded without a card. However, make sure that your credit card providers are aware of your travel plans. You will be swiping a lot and you definitely don’t want to be cut off. For more tips on foreign currency check out this prior post.
Iceland is notoriously for its high prices for some basics such as food and drinks. But with a bit of planning this trip is very affordable.
1. Plane Ticket Budget
Getting to Iceland from the US or Canada is really affordable. If you watch prices it is very easy to get a round-trip ticket for $400 or less on WOW airlines. What I also love about WOW is that you can schedule a layover in another European city for no extra cost. So you may want to consider slipping in another destination for a week or two!
2. Food & Alcohol Budget
While the flights to Iceland can be a steal, once you are there it is notoriously expensive. However, with a bit of planning it should not be an issue. Some of our fav ways that we saved $$$:
Alcohol: While alcohol prices in Iceland can make you want to jump on the bandwagon for the duration of your trip, there is a solution! Purchase at duty-free and stuff it in your carry on. We each purchased 2 bottles of wine and those 4 bottles lasted us all week.
Tip: If you are bringing bottles or wine or plan to buy bottles at the grocery store once you are there, don’t forget to throw a corkscrew into your suitcase.
Food: Usually I love to experience the local cuisine and while we ate dinner out a few times we considered this to be an adventure trip instead of a gastronomic trip so we saved a lot of money by being creative.
We bought a variety of breakfast bars and foods with us.
The traditional Icelandic yogurt, Skyr, is super good, affordable, and can be picked up at any grocery store or gas station.
Look for guest houses or hostels that include breakfast with their rate. We stayed at a few places that included breakfast and found it to be quite good.
Lunch & Snacks:
Like breakfast bars, bring along snack foods like crackers or granola bars in your suitcase.
Find a grocery store during your trip and stock up on sandwich items, fruit, and other items that are easy to eat in the car.
Dinner: We did eat dinner out a few times and if you love fish you definitely want to try some since this is one of their specialties (usually caught right off the side of Ring Road!). But the rest of the time this is how we rolled:
Stayed at AirBnB’s or Guest Houses that had a kitchen so we also cooked easy things such as pasta.
N1 Gas Stations are affordable with a surprising array of food such as salad bars, pasta bars, soup, hamburgers, etc.. In some of the tiny villages this is only “restaurant” around so you will see lots of locals there as well.
Tip: You CANNOT leave Iceland without eating at least one bacon wrapped, cheese hot dog. Yummy!
Renting a car is pretty much required in Iceland if you want to leave Reykjavik. In fact, Iceland is pretty much a road trip vacation. The terrain is very rough on cars and the rental car companies are super stringent about any damage to the vehicle. Honestly, this was one of the biggest sources of stress on our trip. So if you don’t want to spend 80% of your car time (and there is a lot of car time in Iceland) freaked out about the state of the car, 2 things to splurge on:
Additional Insurance: At a minimum buy the gravel, wind and volcanic coverage because the risk is real. We received the same advice before we left and still debated it at the rental car counter but ultimately went with it. And once on the road, we were so happy we did because it did alleviate some of the driving stress.
Get the 4X4: Always the budget travelers we opted for the economy car and ended up with a Nissan Micra. Cute but definitely not practical even for parts of the Ring Road (we didn’t drive on any F-roads). We were chasing hubcaps several times as we bounced over parts of the roads (some of our funniest memories but still I don’t recommend it).
Tip: Many of the roads on the interior of the island are referred to as F-Roads and it is illegal to drive on them unless you have a 4X4 but even then they are known to be quite dangerous.
We were lucky that even though we were missing a hubcap we were not charged additional amounts for car damage. We heard several people telling horror stories about paying thousands of dollars due to damage. I promise you both of these will take a lot of anxiety out of your trip.
Iceland is very well connected and there are mobile hotspots everywhere to make connecting to google maps or searching for information on the next destination easy. Even so, though there are remote areas (especially in the North) without wifi. We both purchased the Verizon travel pass on our phones which at just $10 per day was really affordable. Check out your phone providers options, but generally, this is pretty easy in Iceland. For more info on international cell phone plans check out this prior post.
Tip: Even with travel passes on our phones in some of the more remote areas the signal was not always reliable so be prepared with knowledge of your route just in case.
Other Tips & Tricks
Icelandic is the official language but not to worry because nearly everyone speaks English. Which is a relief because while it is lovely to listen to them communicate in their language, it is not one you are going to master in time for the trip. As hard I tried I was never able to pronounce a word the same way twice.
F-roads vs. Paid Tours
Many of the interior roads on the islands are called the F-roads and it is illegal to drive on them without a 4X4. So if you think you want to venture into them you most definitely want to upgrade the rental car to a 4X4. However, if off-road driving is not your cup of tea even with a 4X4 (like ours) there are plenty of tours that can take you into some of the amazing interior portions of the island.
There is a lot of car time involved in an Icelandic vacation getting from place to place. A lot and especially in the north. The good news is that it is beautiful and lots of opportunities to stop and stretch your legs. But be prepared for hours in the car between locations (such as downloading any audible books, podcasts, or music playlists in advance).
Iceland is in Europe so make sure to bring along converters for charging your devices. Since there is so much car time this can be a great time to charge up all your devices. In addition to phone car chargers, a charging pack like this could come in handy for multiple devices or even for charging a.
What to Pack
You will be spending most of your time in the car or doing outdoor activities so if I had to pick 3 words for packing for an Iceland vacation it would be: warm, casual, comfortable. I strongly advise against packing cute/go-out clothing because you really won’t have an opportunity to wear them and will wish you had used the space in your suitcase for something more practical. Everyone you see is going to be dressed similarly so unless you are going out for a night on the town in Reykjavik anything other than comfy outdoor gear and you will be wayyyy overdressed.
Lots of Layers: You will be shedding or adding clothes between sitting in the car and getting outside to explore. Plus depending on the sunlight it can get “warm”. So layers of shirt, sweater, and a jacket is definitely recommended.
Cold weather accessories: Hat, gloves, scarves, and socks (warm and at least calf length)
Base Layers – Merino wool base layers are the best, but any base layers that you have definitely bring along.
Rain/Wind Gear: A jacket that doubles for both rain and wind protector as well as an umbrella. It rained the whole time we were there and many areas are very windy. But even if you are lucky enough not to encounter rain you will be getting close to a lot of waterfalls and so the rain jacket comes in quite handy on a daily basis.
Cold Weather Jacket: Down jackets are really the best, but regardless of material you will want to have a warm jacket, especially in the winter. It can always come off if needed. We were there in late September and with the rain and chilly weather we often wore our rain jackets over the top of our cold weather jackets and that kept us comfortable.
Materials: Cashmere and wool are the best cold weather materials to keep you warm so pack those if you have them!
Hiking Boots/Shoes: Not cute, fashionable wanna be hiking shoes but durable comfortable hiking shoes (and they can be cute…I have a very cute Salomon pair). Unless you are just poking your nose out of the car to observe (and I certainly hope not) you will be doing lots of walking over rough terrain. And the area around waterfalls is really slippery so you want a good grip.
Bathing Suit – While you are not likely going to jump in the ocean you most definitely want to slip into at least one hot spring while you are there!
Towel – This definitely comes in handy if you are going to stop and dip into hot springs. Even at the larger lagoons/hot springs the towel rental can be expensive (around $5). Plus depending on your accommodations towels may or may not be included. I threw in a camping microfiber towels from REI which is super thin and fast drying making it perfect.
Map of Iceland – Throw it back to 1995 and bring along an old-school map of Iceland. Audrey brought one along this Michelin Map and it came in quite useful a few times because when cell service was under 3G our GPS was not always reliable.
Camera – This is one of those vacations that would be perfect to turn into an animated flip book because just about every square inch is a photography dream (whether you are a novice or a pro). So make sure to bring along your photography equipment (camera, tripod, or other fancy schmancy stuff you have). For some vacations your phone is enough, but for Iceland you will really want that camera.
Food & Such – Don’t forget to add any food items or corkscrew that you are opting to bring along.
Toiletries – Add a packet of tissues or wet wipes to your toiletries along with a ziplock bag. There can be long stretches of road without access to a restroom so if you have to stop on the side of the road you will be really glad you have these (and you do not want to leave behind any litter).
Bonus Pro Tip: Car doors can double as privacy shields if you have to make an emergency roadside stop.
Tip: If your itinerary is going around Ring Road and moving accommodations every day or two remember that you will be hauling your suitcase out of the car and repacking A LOT. I definitely recommend packing as light as possible. If you can find guesthouses or AirBnB that has access to a washer and dryer this will also help you limit what you need to bring. By packing just 2 outfits each we were both able to get everything in a carry-on suitcase. For more on packing light, take a peek at this earlier post.
Planning Your Trip
So I am just going to put it out there…you won’t be able to do it all. I am convinced you could live there and not do it all. There are infinite things to do and to this day I still see amazing pics on Instagram of all the things we missed and I am green with jealousy. So while everyone puts together a “Top 10 List” keep in mind that is from their trip and they probably missed all kinds of things too. Just driving down the road in Iceland is an experience and you will want to stop every 2 miles (seriously, just wait and see).
We booked our trip last minute and we stayed in Iceland only for a week and once we started planning realized that we should have gone for a minimum of 10 days (really 2+ weeks is more ideal). However, those were the tickets so we did some mad planning! You can go here to see that places we visited in Iceland.
Ring Road – This is the road that circles the whole island and will be the primary route for your journey. Many of the more popular tourist attractions are in the south (like Golden Circle), which means most people depart Reykjavik taking Ring Road south. However, because of our chosen itinerary, we actually did the opposite and departed Reykjavik going northwest.
I recommend starting with the Northern part of the island first and working your way to the south because it is more scenic in this direction. How do I know this you ask? Well, interesting story! When we were 60% around the island a bridge on Ring Road collapsed due to rain and that section of the road was closed for the duration of our trip. We had to turn around and drive all the way back around the island to get to the southern part. We lost a day of our trip, but we were able to see the island from both directions and we found north to south to be more beautiful.
Accommodations – Outside of the main cities and some of the larger villages the typical hotel in Iceland is scarce. Most accommodations are Airbnb, Hostels, or Guest Houses. I love these types of accommodations because you get a chance to meet more locals or interact with other visitors to Iceland since you are often sharing a common living space.
For booking this trip Airbnb and booking.com were great resources for finding affordable accommodations almost anywhere on the island.
Tip: While I often take trips where my accommodations are not booked in advance I would recommend (at least on the first trip to Iceland) booking in advance. Rooms can be limited in some villages or a long distance outside of a village. We were there in a low season so there were open rooms, but in high season this could be a challenge. But also be flexible, you never know when you may run into a car or nature issue and requires you to change your plans without notice.
Other super-cool accommodation options that are available are camper vans and tent camping. While we did not do that on this trip I have done both of these in prior vacations and had a blast. I highly recommend them as a great way to have an adventure vacation. Iceland has a lot of campgrounds in which you can have both a camper van and a tent. My next trip to Iceland will likely involve a camper van.
Most Importantly…Have Fun!
Best of luck with planning an amazing Icelandic adventure and if you have any questions send me a note and I will help out as much as I can! Or on the flip side if you have an Icelandic tip or suggestion send it to me so I can add to the list (with reader credit of course).
As one of the current hotspots for travelers, Iceland had my curiosity piqued and it was on my travel list. But to be honest, it was not at the top. As someone who already lives in 4 -5 months (minimum) of winter, I usually want to go to sunshine and warmth for vacation, not in search of more cold. However, one of my girl travel sidekicks, Audrey, had it high on her list and when we both started itching again with the travel bug and airline tickets were crazy cheap for both of us, the deal was sealed!
Preparing for our Iceland trip was an adventure in and of itself. So I wrote an accompanying piece about our lessons learned and tips & tricks to help you with planning a fabulous Icelandic adventure if you want to jump ahead!
Our Iceland Adventure
Beautiful, otherworldly, spectacular, rugged, jaw-dropping…just a few descriptors that come to mind when trying to describe Iceland. Despite rainy weather, missing the island’s east side and the Highlands due to an unexpected bridge outage (what is an adventure without a few unplanned mishaps), and losing some missing car parts (oops!) our seven days there exceeded all our expectations. (You can read a bit more about our mishaps here in the next blog postabout planning your Icelandic adventure)
I can’t wait to share with you what we discovered!
Located on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula next to the village of Grundarfjordur, Kirkjufell Mountain is said to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland. The view of the mountain is stunning from the road, but I recommend taking the very short walk up to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall where the view is spectacular. As a photography hotspot, definitely expect to encounter tons of cameras and tripods, especially at sunset with the backdrop of the sunset and when the northern lights are on display in the winter. But this should not keep you from visiting if you are in this area of Iceland.
Over 98 feet wide Godafoss Falls translates to “Waterfall of the Gods”. According to local legend, when Christianity became the official religion of Iceland in the year 999 – 1000 a pagan priest threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall after converting to Christianity. We stayed nearby one night and the falls were so gorgeous we visited twice!
One of the best places in Iceland to whale watch the small village of Husavik was founded in 870 A.D. According to the Icelandic Sagas, Gardar Svavarsson was the second Scandinavian to reach Iceland and founded the village after his ship was stranded by a storm and he was forced to spend a winter here. When he departed, he left behind some of his party who settled the village. But he was so inspired by Iceland that he did return.
Since neither of us had seen whales up close and personal in the wild, we decided to take a whale watching tour. While spotting a whale is not guaranteed, we had 7 sightings of Orca whales! This expedition had us both giddy with excitement and can definitely recommend if you are on the fence about taking one.
We used Gentle Giants for our whale tour and I have to say they were amazing! I am sure the other tour companies are also great, but we really enjoyed our tour and the staff was so friendly and let us pepper them with questions! We learned a lot during our voyage about whales and their habits. For instance, did you know what the underside of the tail of an Orca is unique to the whale like a human fingerprint? These unique markings are used to identify whales and track them all over the world.
Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography. Follow Audrey on Instagram!
Lake Myvatn (& Surrounding Area)
This massive volcanic lake that was created approximately 2300 years ago when a volcano erupted. It is a huge nature habitat with some many different experiences that it would be possible to spend several days here alone exploring. We did spend the majority of a day exploring but reluctantly had to leave to keep with our itinerary. Recommend stopping by the visitor center in Reykjahlid where they are awesome at helping you figure out what to go see based on your interests.
Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography. Follow Audrey on Instagram!
Star Power: Apparently many scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed in the Myvatn Lake area so they may look familiar to some. However, I am apparently one of only 7 people on the planet who has never seen an episode so it was all new to me!
Grjotagja Cave (Lake Myvatn)
The lava cave has an underground that for many years served as a bathing pool but was closed in the 80’s due to the temperature of the water rising above 50 degrees Celsius (122+ degrees Fahrenheit). However, it seems that as of recently it may possible to bathe it again depending on the temperature which would be awesome! So that might be worth checking out if you are visiting the cave.
Not to be missed is the view from the top of the caves which has a large fissure dividing the ground and an amazing panoramic view of the mountains and you can even see steam rising off of the geothermal pools in the distance.
Namafjall Geothermal Area (Lake Myvatn)
Also known as Hverir this area has a spectacular array of colors created by sulfur crystals and boiling mud pots. It feels like you are stepping out of your car and into the planet Mars. You can walk around in this area and there is even a small hiking trail. Friendly warning: There is a very strong sulfur smell but it’s totally worth it and besides you start to get used to it after a few minutes.
Dimmuborgir (Lake Myvatn)
Called the Dark Fortress of Myvatn, Dimmuborgir is a massive lava rock formation field that was created 2300 years ago when molten lava for the volcanic explosion flowed over a pond. The formations were created when the water that was trapped beneath the lava turned into steam that escaped through vents in the lava. You can wander through the formations by following the paths that have been created.
Hofdi Peninsula and Kálfastrandavogar Lava Pillars (Lake Myvatn)
One of the few places we visited that was full of gorgeous vegetation and trees, the Hofdi Peninsula has beautiful walking trails that provide spectacular panoramic views of the lake. The peninsula also provides the perfect way to see the free-standing Kálfastrandavogar lava pillars. These free-standing pillars were created the same way as the Dimmuborgir formations.
Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography. Follow Audrey on Instagram!
Icelandic Highlands: A total of 40,000 sq km the Icelandic Highlands is one of the largest uninhabited areas of Europe and has some of the most amazing beauty in Iceland (such as Landmannalaugar and Hekla Volcano). Due to the unfortunate Ring Road closure while we were there we lost our day to visit Landmannalaugar but we did drive through a small slice of it between Husavik and Hofn. The rugged, uninhabited beauty is just…wow and at the top of my list for my return trip (yup, that is definitely going to happen).
One of the more popular tourist areas in Iceland you can expect to share space with a lot of people (in contrast to the hours you can spend on the road with few signs of other people). However, it is popular for a reason and so we spent a day exploring it and the surrounding area. Despite the numerous selfie sticks (I have an abnormal hatred of selfie sticks), it was worth it.
Gullfoss Waterfalls (Golden Circle)
A 2-tiered phenomenal waterfall and is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world (more powerful than Niagra Falls!). And to add to the mystical beauty of the waterfalls rainbows are created by the mist and sunlight. In fact, Iceland is full of rainbows so if you are looking for a pot of gold this is a good country to search.
Geysir Geothermal Area (Golden Circle)
Several well-known geysirs are in this area, including Great Geysir. Since it has been dormant since 1926 the chances of seeing it erupt are pretty slim. But not to worry because it’s neighbor, Strokkur Geysir, erupts approximately every 10 minutes and has a trajectory of 66 to 132 feet so it’s pretty impressive to watch!
Kerid Crater Lake (Golden Circle Area)
Formed around 6,500 years ago this crater is almost perfectly oval and its beauty comes not just from the gorgeous blue of the lake at the bottom, but also from the rocks of red and orange along with the colorful vegetation that grows within the crater. Kerid is on the way to the Golden Circle so definitely worth swinging by on your way.
Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography. Follow Audrey on Instagram!
Note: There is a nominal fee of just 500 ISK (around $5 USD and $6 CAD), but don’t let this deter you!
Fridheimar Tomato Farm:
Ok, so not a site but definitely worth a visit, because one has to eat after all, right? Fridheimar is a tomato and cucumber farm that grows their produce in these amazing and gorgeous greenhouses that are kept warm by the geothermically heated water. So pop in and have possibly the best tomato soup and Bloody Mary’s in the world (seriously, in the world).
Our most off the beaten path site that we visited. We were not sure the Nissan Micra would survive (Audrey had to convince me a few times not to turn around). However, put this under the “Totally worth it even if we could have driven off a cliff” checklist. We arrived at this waterfall just as the sun was setting and we were the only people there. This is why I love the path less traveled; it is when you find the most spectacular treasures.
Located right off of Ring Road it is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland at 60 meters (197 feet). One of the really unique things about this waterfall is that you can walk behind it into a small cave with the water tumbling down in front of you. Super cool, but make sure you wear a rain jacket and hat because you will get wet (but completely worth it).
Note: You do have to pay a nominal fee to park and see the falls. Pay at an automated machine with a credit card. Don’t just park alongside the road to avoid paying because they are pretty aggressive about giving tickets (and they should be).
Secret Lagoon Hot Springs
Located in the small village of Fludir and dating back to 1891 the Secret Lagoon is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. While it is far less crowded than Blue Lagoon, it is not quite a secret anymore and you are likely to be sharing the pool with other people. We were there at night, but it does have a feeling of being in nature and you can sip on a wine or beer while relaxing in the cozy waters enjoying the night sky.
Right off the side of Ring Road, a series of houses and barn embedded into the bottom of a mountain that has a lot of elf folklore surrounding it. Elves or no elves these old houses are charming.
Reynisfjara Black Beach
One of the most famous of Iceland’s black-sand beaches due to several unique formations. The first of those is the basalt columns. This unique column wall was formed as a result of the cooling and cracking of thick basaltic lava flow at the surface.
Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography. Follow Audrey on Instagram!
The second is the Reynisdrangar lava formations off of the shoreline. According to legend, these are actually two trolls that were trying to pull a ship out of the ocean but were caught by daylight, turning into stone.
And finally, the basalt column cave which you can slip into for a unique view of the basalt columns.
Kirkjufjara Black Sand Beach
Black sand beaches are a result of the lava flow from volcanoes but may not actually be sand! They can also be small black pebbles and these pebbles are quite beautiful. Kirkjufjara has several lookout points with very different views and both are quite stunning.
We were on the fence about visiting Blue Lagoon due to many reviews that thought it was overrated, expensive, and too touristy. However, in the end, we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon because it would be the equivalent of not going to the Eiffel Tower when in Paris. So we literally hit it up on our way to the airport and we were both so glad that we did! We purchased the base level tickets, each bought one drink, and we were able to keep the cost reasonable. But it was an amazing experience and while there were lots of people there, we didn’t find it to be overcrowded as they control the number of people allowed to enter. Plus our skin was super fabulous after the silica mud mask that is included with the ticket (and we both splurged for the algae mask for an extra $4). However, the state of our hair with all that silica in it after flying back home and letting it air dry was a completely different matter. I should have taken a selfie cause it was a pretty…ummm…unique look!
Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography. Follow Audrey on Instagram!
One of the most famous things about Iceland is its horses. While they are smaller than the typical horse we are used to don’t you dare call them ponies. Once you see them you will know why…they are gorgeous and majestic, and regal. More importantly, they are friendly, love people, love being pet, and are everywhere on the island! So make sure you stop (and stop often) to give some attention and love to these beauties.
Until Next Time Iceland
And there you have it! That is our journey through Iceland. It’s like stepping off the plane into a whole other planet. And it should have been higher on my bucket list. I will definitely be back because there is so much left to explore due to our short trip, rainy weather, and missed the eastern side of the island. But it’s ok…because now I have lots of reasons to return!
All the places we visited and our route are shown on this map, but if you have specific questions feel free to ask!
Iceland or Bust
So I am starting my must-see list for next time and I will keep adding to it as I discover more! I am sharing with you in case they are places you want to check out as options for your trip. If you have any “you just can’t miss this” places send them my way to add to my “Iceland or Bust” return list!
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Vatnajokull National Park
Bustarfell Red Houses
Thingvellir National Park
Fjallabak Nature Reserve: Landmannalaugar and Laugahraun Lava Fields
Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park
Take a Glacier & Ice Climbing Hike
Next Post: Preparing for a Trip to Iceland
If you are anxious to start planning your trip to Iceland and want some insider “been there done that” advice compiled from our trip visit the blog post Planning Your Iceland Trip.
Travel days requires putting all the worldly possessions you need access to in one bag and (if you are lucky) one that does not create a pain in your neck (literally). The conflict of weight vs. inconveniently missing items is scarily similar to a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. So with a few years of trial and error under my belt here are my recommendations for what goes in and and what stays out of the carry-on bag.
Include in Your Bag
Electronics: We all juggle our connectivity and productivity across the multiple devices of phone, tablet, and computer. And depending on the purpose of your trip you may needone or all of them. But heavens they are heavy, so think about what you will really use on a trip. I used to travel with all my devices but got tired of lugging around what could double as a gym weight. So as much as possible I try to travel with only my iPad or laptop depending on the trip.
Wallet and Identification: Yeah, so you are not getting on the plane without identification. But believe it or not…I have forgotten my wallet…more than once. And it isn’t fun. So definitely checklist worthy.
Beauty Supplies: A small bag of beauty pick-me-ups that are needed for a quick refresh. My bag includes: Hand cream, lip balm, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, beauty blotters, and pressed powder.
Portable Charger: A lightweight charger to give a phone or tablet a second wind is a good investment for preventing moments of panic over a dying phone.
Phone charging cord: These days most airports and planes have USB chargers and they are lightweight it is a no-brained to throw one in.
Reusable water bottle: Buying water in the airport is super expensive (not to mention horrible for the environment) and most airports are really great about having bottle refill stations. I love this Platypus flat water bottle my sister put in my stocking last Christmas because it takes up absolutely no space in your bag when it is empty.
Snacks: Throw in your preferred munchie as a much better alternative to airport or airplane snacks. Granola or baggies of cereal make easy snacks to put in a bag.
Headphones/Earbuds: It definitely stinks to be stuck on a plane having to listing to chatter around you or without a way to prevent boredom during take off or landing. So headphones is one I definitely try to double or triple check that I have.
Travel Wrap/Blanket: Temperature is a finicky thing in airports and airplanes and shivering your way through a flight is no one’s definition of fun. Plus, it can help on longer flights for making you feel more comfortable and cozy in your seat. My fav travel wrap comes from Mur Sea and they have several different styles to choose from.
Business/Contact Cards: You never know when you are going to sit next to a super cool person that you want to exchange contact information with so make sure your cards are within easy reach.
Other (As Needed) Items: Not every flight requires these items, but did not want them to be overlooked just in case!
Book: If you are like me and just can’t get into the e-readers you might want to throw in a book. But personally I rarely take a book on a flight with me simply because of weight and size and other electronic entertainment options that are available.
Notebook and pencil case: for jotting notes when those fabulous ideas spring into your head and you need a quick place to jot them down before you forget
Glasses/Sunglasses: Throw in as required and needed!
Medications/Jewelry: Anything that you want to make sure arrives at your destination with you should go in your carry on, not checked luggage.
Pillow Ear Plugs, Sleep Mask, Cozy Socks: Everyone is a bit terrified of sleeping on a plane and what crazy thing you might do (or at least pretty sure I am not the only one with this terrorizing thought.) But sometimes it’s unavoidable for longer or red-eye flights so these might make you feel a bit more comfy.
On the Move Shoes: If you are going straight from the plane to a work meeting racing through the airport in heels can be painful. So slip a pair of flats or flip-flops in your bag so you can easily switch them around.
Consider Putting in Checked Luggage (or carry-on suitcase):
Computer power supplies are large, awkwardly shaped, and often add unnecessary weight. Unless you will be on a long flight, using your laptop and the battery will not last, this is one item you can put in your suitcase.
Books that you are not going to read while on the plane
Electronic devices you are not going to use (only in a carry-on suitcase)
Charge all your electronics a few hours before leaving home plug in all your electronics and get them fully charged.
Make sure you have downloaded your preferred entertainment to your devices. Whether it’s an Audible book, latest edition of a fav podcast, or a TV show do so before leaving home since airport connections can be slow or unreliable.
Tip: Many airlines now have apps for the in flight entertainment so check the app store for your airline and download before hopping on the plane.
Keeping your electronics with you probably goes without saying, but checking them in luggage is not a good idea of multiple reasons. So keep them with you but only travel with the devices you really need.
If you are going old-school (and that is totally cool) with a paper boarding pass take a pic of your boarding pass just in case it gets lost along the way to the gate. It happens more than you might think and it helps with getting a reprint at the gate.
So there you go! My items I just can’t live without for the duration of a flight. And if any of my fellow travelers have any other items or tips & tricks would love for you to share them with me!
So here you go! Off on your first adventure abroad (gosh I remember mine like yesterday) or maybe your first one in a long time. But either way you are about to embark on a fabulous adventure. And you are so excited! Except for those few unknown things that just might be causing a bit of anxiety. I remember those days and how I was so worried something would go wrong. And some of them did go sideways! But I have survived to tell the tale and hopefully share a few “first timer” tricks I have learned along the way. Now these items are just part of my travel prep checklist and don’t steal any of my pre-trip zzzz’s.
My friend Ali is about to embark on her first trip abroad and her #1 stress is making sure she has access to money. And for good reason, no one wants to spend part of their vacation hunting for a Western Union after a desperate phone call back home for funds. So to help prevent being stranded without access to money:
Credit & Debit Cards – Take more than one card so that if you do run into problems with any of your cards you have a back-up. But there are a few tips to help prevent those problems:
Call your card providers before traveling abroad to inform them of your plans. This will help prevent your transactions from being denied, flagged for fraud, or deactivated mid-trip. With fraudulent activity on the rise financial institutions are constantly (and thankfully) on guard for flagging what appears to be fraudulent transactions. But this also means they may shut down your card as a precaution especially if they are unaware of your travel plans.
Be sure to ask about all fees related to foreign transactions on your cards. Some cards can still have really steep fees when it comes to foreign transactions and you don’t want the unpleasant surprise once you are back home of unexpected and excessive fees.
Tip: Some cards are definitely more foreign fee friendly than others so if you are going to travel abroad regularly it might be worth checking into some other card options.
Cash & ATMs – While many places in the world (even some unexpectedly remote ones) accept credit or debit transactions there is always the chance of running into cash only situations or very limited access to ATMs.
Bringing at least a bit of starter cash. You have a few options for accessing foreign currency:
Visit your bank ahead of time to get cash in the foreign currency. If you are going to a more remote location this might be the safest bet. .
Bring cash that you can convert at a Currency Exchange which are very easy to find in all major airports and cities.
ATM usage – not all cards can be used at an ATM and some have exorbitant fees if you do use them. So make sure that you understand which cards can be used at an ATM and the fees related to withdrawing cash vs just using it as a credit card.
Even with as much as I travel and even though I notify my credit card companies in advance, I have had cards deactivated mid-trip. This could have created panic except that I did have a reliable fallback card and access to some local currently.
Tip from reader Jenn BB: I’d add to your credit card tips that once you’ve identified your Foreign transaction free card and notified your issuer of your travel plans never let a merchant convert the currency for you – let your card issuer do it! We were asked almost every transaction in Ireland which currency we wanted to use and hands down it was better to let them run it in Euros and let the bank do the fee conversion free.
Language is a barrier that can be very intimidating when traveling, but this definitely should not stop you! If you really take the time to listen to people speaking in their native language it is beautiful and charming and one of the best things about traveling. One of the most courteous things you can do when traveling abroad is to learn the basics of the native language.
When traveling abroad Anglophones are pretty fortunate that in larger cities many people speak at least some English. But do not take that for granted as in some more remote areas this may not be the case. Plus your host country will appreciate the effort you put into learning some of their language. A few apps that make learning the basics both easy and fun are:
I also love that these apps make finding the time to take a lesson easy. Only have 5 minutes, no problem!
In addition, make sure that you have a translation app, such as Google Translate, downloaded for those instances when you do need some help. At least I know that I always want to know what I am ordering off of the menu or exactly how the metro works before hopping on!
Packing is one of the most dreaded parts of any trip and because of this 99.9999% of us over pack (guilty!). But lugging around a huge suitcase can actually complicate your trip and make it more overwhelming than it needs to be (voice of experience). This is really an area where the golden rule of “less is more” really does apply.
Tip: Before you even start packing ditch the idea that you need a “new and fresh” set of clothes for each day. It just simply is not true.
Clothes: Should mix and match and each piece used in a minimum of 2 outfits.
Shoes: take up way too much space so pack only 1-3 pairs. And comfort is the most important feature of most vacation shoes. It’s hard to spend a day exploring when your feel are screaming for mercy.
Toiletries/Cosmetics: Simplify your routine as much as possible so that you are not lugging your whole bathroom with you.
Plug-ins: If you are bringing along items such as hair dryers, computers, phone chargers definitely make sure you check the electric voltage and pack the necessary converters.
One of the best pieces of advice given to me and I still recall when I am in a packing frenzy is don’t sweat it because if you forget it you can just buy it there. The only thing you absolutely must have is yourself and your passport everything else is generally available at your destination. Think of it as a perfect reason buy another super cool as a souvenir. I love saying..”Oh these shoes? I just grabbed them at a boutique in Paris..”!
It’s real and if you are traveling more than a few hours in time zone differences you need to be prepared. When doing an international trip to a vastly different timezone (4+ hours) sleep habits can definitely put a kink in your plans. Heading out on a new adventure is so exciting and it can be hard to imagine falling asleep on the plane, but as much as possible use your plane time to adapt your internal clock.
For example, most trips to Europe from North America are overnight flights that last 6 plus hours. By sleeping on the plane (even staying awake for the airline meals is definitely not worth it) you will wake up in the morning hours of your destination and it will be easier for your body clock will be able to adapt to the new timey. This will let you maximize your time exploring your new destination and prevent sleeping in until noon wasting half of your day.
Tip: Pack a sleeping mask and ear plugs in your carry on bag make it feel cozy (or as cozy as possible when sleeping with 199 of your closest strangers).
Tip: Once you arrive at your destination as tired as you may be try not to take a nap or go to sleep the first night before 9:00 pm local time to help keep your body in the correct timezone on day 2, 3….
Cell Phones & WiFi
Although in my younger career days I was known to run around frantically looking for a cell phone signal, I am going to bet (or at least hope) that on vacation most are looking for a much needed break from having our noses glued to our phone. On the other hand it is nice to still have access for staying connected to family, getting directions, or researching your next adventure. While not so long ago this was quite difficult and expensive, now it is often easy and affordable to maintain connectivity with a bit of planning.
Cell Phone Plans
Short term trips – Most major cell phone companies have very reasonable travel access or passes. Just make sure you contact your provider to find out your options and pricing and select an option before leaving.
Long term trips – When we are gone for more than a few weeks we often find the local cell provider and purchase SIM cards with set amounts of data. For some people this might be a lot because it changes your phone number, but it can definitely be worth it for longer trips.
Tip: Recommend that you buy your SIM card for a large local company and not one of the small options you see in the airport or on the street to ensure you get the proper support and installation of the SIM card.
Tip: For Canadian’s international or travel passes are notoriously expensive from Canadian providers so we have found that it is cheaper for my hubby (who has a Canadian plan) to buy a SIM card. Since I have a US plan I have a bit more flexibility in choosing the best option than he does.
Tip: If you are planning to get a SIM card at your destination make sure that your phone is unlocked.
WiFi – Make sure you read about the level of connectivity for your destination, but so many places now have WiFi access. In addition to public WiFi many shops and restaurants can have WiFi available for their customers.
Instant Messengers – Make sure you have instant messengers installed that only require WiFi to communicate in case texting is not an option or you need to control your data. Options such as i Messaging, Facebook Messenger, and Skype will work just fine.
Tip: In Europe What’s App is wildly popular. So if you are headed to Europe any local people (such as AirBnB hosts) will want to communicate on What’s App so worth downloading before you go.
International Drivers License – If you are planning to rent a car to get around make sure you check the requirements as many countries require an International Drivers License. These are relatively easy to get and do not require a test, but do require a properly formatting photo.
Tip: In Canada you can get your International Drivers License at a CAA location and a bonus is that they are also equipped to take your pic in the proper format. Plus you get your license on the spot!
Reader Tip from Kim S: I find it handy to print addresses in which I need to know to show cab drivers, this is critical in non English speaking countries! Imagine ending up on the wrong side of Tokyo because you can’t pronounce the address correctly!
Tip from reader Philippe P: Another idea is to screen shot the addresses so they are available on your phone.
There you go! The top items people ask me about when they are traveling abroad the first time. But absolutely none of them should cause any anxiety if you take a few minutes to plan and prepare in advance of your trip so you can spend your energy on maximizing your adventure!
P.S. If you have any other things that create stress for you when traveling abroad and how you handle them, would love it if you shared with me so I can update the list!
I get questions regularly from family and friends on how to pack since I have evolved into a semi-pro. Since I am packing for a 2.5 week vacation I thought this would be the perfect time to share my process. This particular trip includes stops in DC, North Carolina, and a tour through California from San Fran to San Diego. And I managed to pack in carry-on sized suitcase. Full disclosure: this does not include cycling clothing & gear as that gets packed in the bags with our bikes but it does include my other “stuff” for the 2.5 weeks!
Minimal packing is a skill. Seriously, I wish I had learned it years ago as I get flashbacks to my first trip to 10-day trip to Europe in which I took two massive suitcases that covered every single possibility that might occur and proceeded to haul them through planes, trains, and automobiles. Across multiple countries. And countless walk-up apartments in Europe. This is the trip where I became intimate with packing regrets.
In the many years since my packing style has been forced to evolve. Forced.
Reason 1: Years of being a business traveler made over-packed bags obnoxious. Especially when everyone else I was traveling with had carry-on luggage and had to stand around baggage claim impatiently waiting for my bag to arrive. And then when I did have a carry-on I had to be sure I could lift it into the overhead compartment without giving an innocent bystander a concussion.
Reason 2: Multi-week cycling trips in Europe in which we literally had to carry all our possessions on bikes from location to location. The very first time I went on one of these trips and my hubby announced that I could only take 4 outfits for 2 weeks (2 cycling outfits, 2 regular outfits) I almost had a meltdown. And you can just imagine what he said about my items for my daily beauty routine. Our relationship almost came to an end over this discussion…but as usual in the end he was right.
And let’s be honest…I usually didn’t even use 50% of what was in my suitcase.
So after coming to grips with my ridiculous packing habits, I began to hone my skills in minimalist packing. It took some trial and error to get it right…leaving out things I really did need and bringing things that I still didn’t use. Today I am pretty good at efficient and minimal packing. I spent 3 months living in France in just one regular sized suitcase and a super small carry on (really backpack with wheels for my weekend excursions). Even I was impressed with myself. But I used everything I had and because of picking mix and match pieces never felt deprived with my outfit selection (and a few purchases in French boutiques helped :-).
Pick things that mix and match. Everything should be able to be part of a least 2 outfits if not more. So pick your colors and patterns carefully. For example as my packing came together for this trip I ended up with a navy, off-white, and black theme with a few pops of color added by tank tops, scarves, and accessories.
Myth: Lose the idea that you can’t wear an outfit more than once during a trip. Yes you can. Just plan the when carefully.
Myth: You don’t need multiple outfits per day unless there are special events going on. So pick clothing pieces that are versatile between activities.
Workout clothes take up a lot of space so be honest with yourself…are you really going to use them on this trip? If you are definitely pack them, but if it is an overnight work trip jam packed with commitments you could probably save the space that those shoes will take.
For longer trips, if possible choose an AirBnB or hotel that has easy access to a washing machine so that you can easily wash undergarments and work out clothes. That means that you don’t have to pack multiples. I generally keep a small packet of laundry detergent in my bag in case I have access to a washing machine (which sometimes turns out to be the bathroom sink in a pinch)
Shoes, shoes, shoes. Still my biggest challenge. I just can never have enough shoes but gosh they take up sooo much room. So keeping it to 2 – 3 pairs can be tough but this is where outfit coordination can also come in handy.
Formal Shoes: 1 pair of dress/work shoes or 2 if a multi-day trip.
Comfortable Shoes: Generally flats but something good for lots of walking in airports or events outside of work.
Flip-flops: Thin and bendable so they don’t take up much space but usually they are needed for hotel rooms. Some people do pass on these but I have seen too many hotel rooms not to. Or perhaps in the summer months or warm locations flip-flops and comfortable shoes can do double duty.
Sneakers: If you are going to work out or perhaps these are another option to perform double with your comfortable shoes.
Tip: To save space, if possible stuff the shoes with things like socks or tights. Not only does this help keep the shape of the shoes it saves tons of space!
Warm layer: Often it is necessary for a warmer layer in the plane, mornings and evenings. So try to pick one scarf, jacket or sweater that will look nice with every outfit because like shoes they take up a lot of room.
I keep a permanent bag of toiletries ready to go so I just have to move it around between suitcases and never spend time putting it together. This has been one of the practices that really lowered my stress for packing so I highly recommend it!
Tip: Buy a clear TSA compliant bag that you keep everything in so that you can just grab it and throw it in the security bin if carrying on your luggage.
Liquids: Lotion, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, skin care products, toothpaste.
Tip: Regardless of if you are checking luggage or not the 3 oz rule is a good one for liquids to also minimize space. So invest in lots of bottles and keep them full of your must have liquids. Tip: Even though hotels usually have items such as body wash and lotion I still always transport with me for simplicity so that my toiletries bag does not have to be changed each trip. Plus sometimes they just don’t and I am not willing to sacrifice my moisturizing routine.
Beauty Routine: My on-the-road and at-home beauty routines vary. My on-the-road routine is much simpler with fewer steps to save time and space. However, If you are like me you are not willing to compromise on things such as skin care so find a good, but simpler set of beauty products for travel. At home I use Rodan & Fields but when I travel I use the Josie Maran argan oil products.
Tip: Pick multi-functional products as much as possible. One of the reasons I love the Josie Maran line is because in addition to simplicity they are also multi-functional. I use the classic Argan oil as moisturizer for my face, hands, and lips but I also replace my Moroccan Oil hair product with the Argan oil and it works fabulously.
Hair Styling Equipment: These take a lot of space so think about if you can substitute yours with the equipment from the hotel. If you are staying in accommodations that don’t offer these items then pack as few as possible (do you really need a dryer, curling iron, and straightener). Or if you travel enough I really suggest investing in travel size items.
There are things that I just keep in my suitcases at all times so I don’t have to worry about forgetting them:
Dirty Clothes bag
If you have a trip coming up that is creating packing stress (seriously, it’s a thing!) start pre-packing in advance, especially for big trips. This way you can add items to the pile and take away as you change your mind. When I recently took a trip to Iceland and was only taking a small carry-on I began pre-packing 2 weeks in advance as ideas came to mind. When it was time to pack I just threw it all in the suitcase and zipped it up. Bonus: No stress at all and I didn’t forget anything critical or pack anything unnecessary!
Keep a master packing list so that you don’t have to recreate a list each time you travel desperately making sure you didn’t leave anything off. I have multiple master packing lists depending on the types of trip: Business, Vacation, Camping, etc. and I cannot tell you how much easier they make my life when getting ready for a trip.
If you can’t carry it don’t pack it. Seriously. Do a weight test on your luggage before you walk out the door and if you cannot lift it enough to carry up a set of stairs…de-pack something. Big mistake is to assume that someone will help you with it and then before you know it you in the metro station, after midnight, stuck at the bottom of the stairs because the escalator is broken and you have to figure out how to climb 57 stairs with a suitcase that feels like Shamu is stuffed in it. Been there done that. Not fun.
Honestly packing is no one’s favorite activity and it creates stress, anxiety, bad moods, and excessive wine drinking. So anything that eliminates stress is awesome because no one needs to start an important work trip or a fun vacation as a stress ball. Minimal packing provides so many benefits that for me it is a no-brainer. Easy-peasy to get around with my bags, daily outfit selection much easier each day when you have minimal choices, and you get to be creative and stretch your wardrobe limits!
If anyone has any tips that make their packing process just a bit easier would love to hear them so I can steal them for my process and add to this suggestion list for others.
P.S. For anyone wondering how I survive 2 week cycling trips with only 4 pieces of clothes…there is a secret. After my first melt down over the 2 outfits for 2 weeks rule my hubby gave me a compromise. After the trip was over he would take me boutique shopping to buy new outfits. DEAL! Oh and I lose the hair routine…completely lose it…I refer to this time as “hair-cation” where anything can and will happen with my hair style.
Ready for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and a nice chill weekend in the mountains? If that is a yes, I know your next destination…to come visit me in the Eastern Townships in Quebec! Seriously, you can feel your stress level dropping by at least 12 notches here. This collection of adorable villages is situated between Montreal and Quebec City making it a perfect stop in any Quebec adventure.
So if you have not guessed this is my home base and I am just in love with it (except in late winter when it is time for the snow and cold weather to just go away). I will confess that despite growing up in a small town, I was not certain how I would re-adapt to small town life after city living and globe trotting. Well turns out I kind of won in the “best places” to live lottery. Plus there is so much to do that after 2 years of living here I will have a long “to do” list.
I tried to keep it brief but there is so much to do here, this post ended up being a bit longer than usual but hopefully the links will help you move around easily to the things you are most interested in.
The good news is that these villages are so close to each other they are drive-able as a day or semi-day trip from wherever you decide to make your home base for this excursion.
Sutton – Pick from plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, road biking, and skiing. After you are done with the physical exertion, there are also many great restaurants, coffee shops, and local boutiques to explore. And as one of the stops along the Quebec Route des Vins you should definitely explore the close-by wineries. One of my personal favorites on the route is Vignoble Domaine Bresee and if you are going at lunch take a picnic to enjoy with a bottle of their wine! Sutton also has plenty of unique adventures including Au Diable Vert which also has the Velovolant.
Bromont – Only 45 minutes outside of Montreal Bromont is a hotspot for outdoor adventures. With an excellent mountain biking trail system that is continually expanding for the summer months and Ski Bromont which is one of the largest (possibly the largest) illuminated alpine ski centers in North America. And no matter which season you are visiting in you can relax those sore muscles at the Balnea Spa followed by a beer at a local microbreweries and then dinner at one of the many local restaurants. Two of my favorites are Le Macpherson for a unique volcano cooking stone experience or Le David et Goliath for an affordable and delicious table d’hote menu.
Orford – My personal favorite of the eastern township villages (my Canadian hometown!) this is one of the smaller villages but with easy access to the outdoor adventures. Alpine ski at Mont Orford or if you prefer not to plummet downhill at the speed of a human rocket (like me!) you can opt for Mont Orford National Park which is one of the largest XC and CC ski centers in Quebec. And depending on the season there are plenty of outdoor activities to choose from including camping, snowshoeing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing…well pretty much close to everything you can do outdoors in a park. Check out the restaurants in the petit village or Magog is a short 5 – 10 minutes drive for an expansive selection of restaurants and shops. Not to be missed is the Espace 4 Saisons which is a super cool place to stay, but there are also a lot of AirBnB ski chalet’s in this area which is absolutely perfect for a ski resort area!
Magog – Situated on Lake Memphremagog is a bustling little village with so much to do! In the summer there are plenty of water activities on this gorgeous lake and a perfect little downtown chock-full of adorable restaurants and boutiques. Dine along the river or have a glass of wine on the lake shore while watching the sunset. The Orford Express departs from here, choose from an array of lake cruises, or you can relax at the Spa Nordic Station. And if you look closely you might just get a glimpse of the fabled and absolutely adorable lake monster, Memphre (I am still on the lookout for her). Also easily accessible from Magog is the St Benoit Abbey du Lac. Since I live right in this township I do have some restaurant recommendations for you:
Fondissimo – fondue restaurant that you can bring your own wine! While it is casual it is very popular so reservations are definitely recommended (but not required, if they have a table they will give it to you)
Microbrasserie La Memphre – Our favorite place for grabbing some yummy Quebec style pub food and their beer is really good too! I almost always get the flight because I can never pick just one…
Les Enfants Terribles – Our favorite thing about this place is the rooftop terrace in the summer with a fabulous view overlooking Lake Memphremagog
North Hatley – one of the smaller villages in Eastern Townships this is also one of the prettiest! This village is on our regular cycling routes as we love to get their just in time for lunch from Saveurs Et Gourmandises Boulangerie and eat in the little park that borders the lake. This place is absolutely one of the most picturesque and definitely worth at least spending part of a day and having a drink at one of the several restaurants on the river or lake and exploring the local boutiques.
Things You Probably Should Not Miss (#Bucketlist)
Forest Lumina – Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook comes alive at night with a really unique and super cool multimedia light show. Enter this magical other-world by venturing across the swinging bridge and pulling away the mystical veil for a peek into the magical and supernatural world that runs parallel to our world. This adventure just might explain a few of those “what was that ?!?!?” experiences you may have had in the woods. We had so much fun that we went back to see it again!
Route des Vins – So wine is not probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about visiting Quebec. But definitely give it a second thought! While Quebec is mostly known for the sweeter dessert types such as Ice Wine, Late Harvest, and Cider (which are a yummy treat) white wines are also quite good and recently I have found some really good red wines!
Plus just imagine visiting during the fall harvest season, and zipping along the route with windows open or on a bike, leaves turning brilliant fall colors, and having a bottle of wine and a picnic at any of the fantastic outdoor spaces that many of the wineries offer. Truly a perfect day. This awesome website will help you plan the perfect trip.
Orford Express (Magog) – A leisurely train ride that takes you through several of the villages traveling along Lake Memphremagog, over several rivers and bridges is the perfect way to spend some time on the weekend. We opted for the brunch ride and not only was the food amazingly good the atmosphere was topped off with a live jazz singer after brunch was finished. Sipping bubbly, listening to jazz, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery from a luxury train car is a truly relaxing way to see several spots in eastern Quebec.
Nordic Spas – After a day filled with any of the myriad of outdoor adventures you must finish off the day by relaxing tired muscles at one of the Nordic Spas that are sprinkled around. Not only are they super relaxing with the outdoor ambience of Canada, your tired muscles will feel like they are floating on clouds. These spas are perfect any time of the year and don’t miss out on the cold bath (even in winter) as part of the routine! Those of us from warmer temps tend to want to skip it, but truly it’s a must.
Sugar Shacks – If you are visiting Quebec in the late winter/early spring it is a must to have an authentic sugar shack on your list. After a few years of living in Quebec I finally visited an authentic sugar shack with my hubby and sister! I love maple syrup so a whole meal smothered in freshly made maple syrup is…well…amazing ! Choose your sugar shack carefully because there are lots of options out there that are more commercial in nature, but I prefer a smaller more authentic experience and those are smattered throughout the Eastern Townships.
If you are in the Magog/Orford area I can definitely recommend Erabliere Chic Rustique. This is the only sugar shack that I have visited myself but between a horse-drawn carriage ride to the shack, the small rustic shack, and hike in the woods after to see the trees “at work” I cannot imagine there is a better experience. Plus it was BYOB so don’t forget to pack your favorite adult beverage that matches well with maple syrup!
St Benoit Abbey du Lac – A working monastery the abbey is absolutely breathtaking. If you love touring the old churches of Europe you will not want to miss this. Or if you have not had the opportunity to visit European churches yet you should not miss this so you can get a taste of how extraordinary they are! Attend a gregorian chant service, purchase products made onsite by the monks such as cheeses, apple ciders, and jellies (and I can attest that they are fantastic), take a hike on the grounds, or pick apples in the fall.
Things still on my to-do list
Lake Memphremagog Cruises – I really want to check out the scenery from a boat so my next victim (I mean visitor) to come to Quebec will get to be the lucky one to experience this with me! With plenty of options including pirogue boats, pedal boats (if you have a desire to captain your own boat and stay closer to shore), pontoon boats, brunch cruises, dinner cruises. Some of them even let you bring your own picnic lunches so you can definitely design your own experience. And if you are lucky maybe spot Memphre the lake monster!
Velovolant (Canopy Cycling) – Bicycling in the treetops from a suspended bike…why, yes I would love to! This is one of the newest activities in the area and I absolutely cannot wait to try it out! If you do before me let me know what you think!
If you are an outdoor or camping enthusiast, the Eastern Townships have several experience stays you really should consider. We have done all that are recommended here and I can tell you there is no better way to disconnect that going offline for a day or two and picking any of these unique options!
Au Diable Vert (Sutton) – Sleeping in a tree house but for adults is such a fun alternative to a typical overnight stay. We loved it so much we had to go back a second time! It is a camping experience so you will need to make sure you bring your supplies for sleeping and cooking (unless you opt to go into town for your meals). We cooked our meals around an open camp fire next to a field full of the cutest cows who are quite friendly.
Tip: You will need to carry your supplies to your tree house and while wheelbarrows are provided it can be a bit of a hike so make sure you prepared for this and don’t over-pack.
Canoe Camping – So forget drive-up camping…how about going up the adventure experience a few notches and try paddle-in camping! There are many outdoor activities to experience at Parc National de la Mauricie but one of the most unique is their secluded canoe camping. So test your partner communication skills, wildlife survival skills and paddle your way into an unforgettable experience. During the day you can hike, canoe, and road bike.
Tip: You will be paddling your camping supplies in the canoe with you so don’t pack the house…just what you really need.
Tip: You are in a wildlife area so make sure that you read the advice and instruction they provide at the park station because it is important that you keep yourself and your fellow campers safe. We have never had an encounter with a wild animal but we do follow the rules very carefully.
Yurt – Another fantastic trip we had was when we rented a yurt for the weekend. There are plenty to pick from in Quebec and since you are in a national or provincial parc there are likely plenty of day time outdoor activities. We had a great time mountain biking and canoeing down the river when we stayed at Vallée Bras du Nord. We had so much fun that it is on our list for a return trip!
So if all that roughing it in the outdoors has you ready for some pampering and luxury you are covered there too! Or if you want to skip the outdoor experiences and just go straight for luxury (really I don’t blame you) totally go for it!
Hovey Manor – Recently named #27 in the “Top 100 Hotels in the World” by Travel + Leisure Magazine and as one of two luxury hotels in the area Hovey Manor is a perfect splurge. It is our go-to when we need a close weekend getaway and we have celebrated a few New Year’s Eve’s here and I can tell you that they never fail to disappoint on experience.
Ripple Cove Manor – The second 5-star hotel in the area Ripple Cove is just as enchanting. While we have not stayed here we did host our wedding reception here and it could not have been any more perfect.
Of course there are plenty of other options in the area as well including unique AirBnB’s and plenty of adorable B&B’s to choose from.
Camping – There are a ton of camping experiences for all types of campers from tents to RV’s to Cabins to Yurt’s to Tree Houses (yup..pretty much everything). Likely if it is a camping accommodation the Eastern Townships has it. Simply pick your level of “roughing it” and then choose a location to serve as your homebase while you explore the area.
Hiking – So we are in the mountains which means there are plenty of trails and experiences to pick from! This awesome trail finder will match you to your dream hike! Pick your length, level of difficulty, location, and even some cool things such as pet/stroller/wheelchair friendly. Think of this like your dating app…it find the perfect trail-mate for you!
Road Biking – Eastern Quebec is considered a biking destination for road cyclists. In fact, I learned to road bike in Quebec and that is partly because it is so incredibly bike friendly that I rarely feel intimidated by cars. Most roads have plenty of shoulder space for peaceful co-existence of bikes and cars. In addition they have a lot of public messaging encouraging a “share-the-road” mentality and in general I find the cars to be very courteous (probably because many people in cars are also cyclists). Much is built into the tourism infrastructure of Quebec to accommodate cyclists:
Bike Taxi’s – To return you to your home base if you have gone just a bit too far
Accommodations – An established “Bienvenue Cyclists” designation will identify accommodations that can also safely house your bikes and gear when you are not in the saddle.
Cycling Maps/Routes – From the wine route, getting from village to village, multitudes of distance to choose from they have thought of it all!
Mountain Biking – So one thing I have learned is that many Quebecois are die-hard mountain bikers so there are several trail systems to keep you on your toes and probably teach you a few new tricks! As a mountain biker’s destination trip trails and bike parks being built regularly. And if you didn’t travel with your bike most towns have a local bike shop that can help you out with a rental. Check out these links for more information on various trail systems:
Skiing: Canada + Winter + Mountains = Ski opportunities galore! Whether it be hurdling down a hill at neck breaking speeds or keeping up with your cardio routine you are covered! This awesome ski matching-making site will help you choose just the right place!
Snowmobiling – For those with a taste for speed and zipping through the woods snowmobiling is a perfect activity. Quebec has a great snowmobiling trail system and places to rent. Not really my cup of tea so I don’t know much about it, but lots of people here love it!
There is always something going on somewhere in an Eastern Townships village. Here are a few that I know of but for the complete listing at the time of your visit check out this event site!
Vendanges (Magog) – Eat, drink, and be merry! If you are around the first 2 weekend of September the place to be is at this festival. Hosted on the shore of Lake Memphremagog, filled to the brim with local wines, beers, food, artists, gourmet presentations by local chefs, and tasting events this is pretty much the definitely of fun.
TriMemphre Triathlon (Magog) – If you are an endurance athlete this might be worth checking out and putting on your training schedule. Starting in 1995, there are now over 2,000 athletes that come to participate in the swim, bike, run competition. It’s a beautiful place for you to put your skills to the test!
Magog Marathon – Prefer to keep it simple and to just one sport…cool…then there is the marathon that happens in late October, because why not run 26.2 miles in the gorgeous fall scenery?
Grand Coulée Beer Festival (Orford) – Even though it is one of the newer events in the area, this festival is wildly popular. Why? Well because of the plethora of local micro breweries, food trucks, live bands, and chairlift rides up the mountain. Yup…lots of fun!
Fall Festivals – You don’t get a more perfect fall than in Quebec. With crisp, cool mornings and evenings, warm days, and stunning leaves there is nothing more fun than a weekend of fall festivals in Quebec. Pretty much all the villages host them so make sure to find one (or two) and check it out!
So basically you now have no reason not to come visit the Eastern Townships because there is something for everyone in all seasons. Plus you can come visit me!
If you have any feedback on any of these suggestions of know of something that I should add to the list share with me!