How Solo Travel Changed My Life

In the begining of my traveling days, I never thought I would turn into a full fledge solo traveler and take the term ‘the world is your oyster’ to such great lengths that it became my lifestyle.

As I write this I am on a solo trip in Spain. Last year I did participate in my first group trip in about 10 years, and then of course in true Petrena fashion, after the group trip, I was off on my solo adventures once again. Previously to all of this, I backpacked all around Central and South America, and completed a solo trip across Africa, from South Africa to Egypt, carrying a portable massage table. As much as I love traveling with people, I also love traveling alone for so many reasons. Solo travel enriched my life in countless ways.

My passion for travel and adventure also has me incredibly excited for this travel event coming up in Calgary on March 19th, 2020, hosted by Nomad Junkies called #Nomadtalks, showcasing and inspiring others like you to travel further, longer.

It got me thinking of the ways solo travel have impacted my life.

1. Pushed Me Into Growth

There is nothing like showing up to a country that you know nothing about, do not speak the language and are not familiar with the culture. It is exciting, nerve wracking, at times mentally exhausting, and the best way to uplevel your mindset in a very short period of time. You are in charge of navigating, communicating, keeping yourself safe and also finding the most epic adventures that the destination has to offer. Your intuition will become sharper and shaper as you continue to use its guidance to get you places. You will be challenged in so many ways, and suddenly the comforts of home are not an option. Through it all you, you will gain massive leadership skills, and I mean leadership of self. Which is priceless, as you can not be a great leader of others if you are not first a great leader of self.

2. Got To Know Myself Very Deeply

The best way to get to know yourself is to actually spend time with just yourself. Put yourself in new and foreign situations and you really start to see what makes you react and also what makes you tic. You have plenty of time to just be in your head and in your thoughts. You begin to discover things about yourself that you never knew, or perhaps forgot about since your early days. Passions new and old will arise. It is almost as if epiphany after epiphany happens. You return far more grounded in yourself, your values and who you are then you could have ever imagined. For this relationship with myself, I am forever grateful to my solo travel experiences.

3. More Connected With People As A Whole

This for me was so amazing. There was countless times where I have been in very remote places, and also very metropolitan places that I do not speak the language, and they also do not speak my language. Yet, through alot of charades, broken languages and at times frusteration as we had so much we wanted to say, we were still able to communicate. I formed deep bonds with people all over the globe not speaking the same language at all. Nowadays things are even easier as we have google translate. Last year when I was solo in Zanzibar, I met another solo female traveler from Russia who didn’t speak a word of English, and my Russian is also non-existent. Thanks to google translate we had the best time and lots of endless laughs. Picture the two of us having a cocktail at the bar and passing a phone back and forth cracking up. My biggest lesson in this respect is that no matter where we are in the world, people are people. We can be very different in values and beliefs, but at the end of the day we are all the same. When you realize that, you can connect with virtually anyone, and that is a beautiful feeling.

4. Greater Appreciation For The World

Unless we get out from our little bubble, we will never see all the endless beautiful and amazing things this world has to discover. Alot of times we can get stuck under the impression that the world is a very scary place, so we play it extra safe and don’t venture off too far. For myself, the further I have gone the further I want to go and the more beauty I find, the more beauty I want to discover. Of course there are dangers, and we must use our wits about things, but we should never let fear take over and stop us from discovering all of lifes splendors.

I have had the pleasure of staying with locals in the townships of South Africa, to rural villages across the continent and likewise in Central and South America. Places where most other travelers won’t go because they are told never to visit there unless you are on a tour. I prefer getting the real experience, so in my solo traveling history I have always made friends with locals and families who invited me to come and stay. When you are there with locals from the community, you are always well taken care of. Many times people endlessly thanked me for coming as that never happens. I have gained such an apprecation for everything this world has to offer. There is so much heart opening beauty.

5. Proved To Me That The Only Cure For The Travel Bug Is To Travel More

Those of you who have gotten biten by it know – the travel bug is relentless. There is no real cure. You can simply put it into hibernation for a bit by giving it a taste of what it loves so much. I feel like I was born with the travel bug, it was engrained in my being. At times it calms down and I settle for awhile, but that never lasts forever as when he doesn’t get his travel fix he begins to awaken from his slumber demanding some adventure. The travel bugs appetite is insatiable. Of course I have also grown to love my travel bug, so I like to be a good host. I mean what else can I do, he seems to be with me for life. Plus, the cure also happens to be what sets my soul on fire. Why work against some things, when it is so much easier to work with them.

Has solo travel been something that you want to discover for yourself as well?

Something I didn’t have when I began my global travel was tools. Tools and knowledge that would have made the whole process even more smooth. I just jumped right in and went for it, which is also great. I love learning as I go, but it is even better to have some mental preperation and also know your options.

If you dream of traveling for 6 months or longer, then knowing your options and how to make it happen, will help immensely. If you are interested in learning more about the nomadic lifestyle then I definetely suggest checking the #Nomadtalks event that will be happening in Calgary. Nomad Junkies will be hosting their first ever event in Western Canada presented by International Experience Canada, and in partnership with Tourisme Alberta on March 19th. I am super excited to also announce that I will be a guest speaker at the event.

Tickets are available here.

I will also be hosting a giveaway on my facebook page, so go give that a follow if you want to be kept upto date on how to win your seats!

The event will consist of three talks, all of them travel related, and all full of amazing tools to get you on your way to treking the globe.

The first talk will be by David Xiao of Trailing Adventures. His talk is ‘Hiking from Mexico to Canada: Everything You Need to Know to Trek the Pacific Crest Trail‘. David is an adventure blogger and has great inspiration to share. This is an amazing trek that I would even love to do one day. I am very excited to learn about this.

The second talk will be by Safia & Emilie from Nomad Junkies. Their talk is ‘Work Your Way Around the World: How to Make the Most of Your Working Holiday Visa‘. Being the founders of Nomad Junkies, these two ladies have done loads of traveling and have a wealth of knowledge about how to work and travel. Working holiday visa’s are amazing. I have had one myself before. It is such a great way to travel further, longer. So if that is what you want, this talk will be for you.

The third talk will be by none other then myself! My talk is ‘ The Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel: Wild Stories from a Woman Who Travelled the World‘. Solo travel is my jam. I have had some insane and also completely magical experiences. I have learnt the right and wrong way to do things, and I am excited to share all the knowledge I have gained on my global adventures.

The MC for the event is Rudy Desjardins of Radio-Canada’s Le Cafe Show.

There is an incredible giveaway too!

You could win a 1 week surf & yoga retreat in El Transito, Nicaragua.

The winner will be randomly picked on stage at the event on March 19th. So get your ticket!!

See you there!

Massive thank you to Nomadjunkies for collaborating on this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own and I share from personal experience.

Time to pack our bags!

Top 5 Free Sights To See On The Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is labelled one of the most scenic drives in the world, and for a very good reason. While cruising along it you will be immersed in dazzling scenery the entire way. From beginning to end, you will never in your life forget the feast that your eyes indulged in.

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From all the various lakes, rivers, streams and waterfalls, to the exquisite mountain ranges and majestic glacier, you will be in total awe for the whole trip.

Every single visit I make to the Icefields Parkway, I never cease to be totally amazed. It supplies you with an energy surge like none other. You literally feel on top of the world.

Throughout the Icefields Parkway, there are plenty of lodges, hostels, and even the glacier experience.

Yet if you want to do things on the cheap, there are so many amazing and free things to see. Some of the best experiences you will ever have will be those that cost you nothing, other than a little time in nature and tank of gas.

So without further adieu, here are my top 5 free sights to see on the Icefields Parkway.

     1. Valley Of The Five Lakes

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A beautiful, very comfortable and easily navigated 4.5km hike where you will be amazed at the stunning beauty of the 5 lakes.

Each lake has pristine turquoise blue water, yet also boasting their own unique beauty and shape. It seems around every corner you are wowed with mother natures splendour.

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The paths are extremely well maintained with sign postings throughout for easy navigation. You will be ridiculously happy that you made the decision to embark on this little journey.

          2. Athabasca Falls

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The green glacier water from the Athabasca Valley Glacier that flows over this cliff is sure to get your appreciation for nature peaking.

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Surrounded by the incredible mountain range, it brings the magical energy of this spot up to an all-time high.

The falls may be small, yet you can feel the power of the water when you are right beside them. Flowing straight through a gorge only adds to its majestic beauty.

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With well maintained and easily accessible paths surrounding the falls, you will be delighted at all of the pristine photo opportunities of all angles that are on offer.

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     3. Sunwapta Falls

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These tiny falls are the perfect spot to stop and have a little sample of when things are small in size, yet big in beauty.

With that glacier water and unforgettable views, you will once again be amazed at the landscape.

     4. The Athabasca Glacier

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Awe-inspiring. That is exactly what it is. Getting up close and personal with a glacier is an incredibly powerful feeling. It is an easy hike up a path to the base of the glacier, and totally free to do also.

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Prior to this experience I never imagined that a glacier would feel this incredible. The power of nature is all over it.

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The sad part is, is that the glacier is melting at an accelerated rate, which means in the next 100 years it may very well be pretty much gone. So now is the time to get a good look at it.

     5. The Iconic Peyto Lake

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Where dreams are made of. A short uphill hike will take you to this dreamy spot, where you will see that mother nature did not hold back in creating this canvas to be one of mind-blowing proportions.

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The colour of the water is so vibrant it will create waves of inspirational emotion in your mind.

It is so easy to sit and get lost in the splendour of it all. Taking your imagination to new heights. It will make you wish you could stay forever.

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These 5 places will set your soul on fire and re-charge your energy like none other. Let’s not forget – one of the main reasons to visit the Icefields Parkway is to simply enjoy the endless array of beauty that you will not even believe. Seeing is believing, yet when it is that good, it is still hard to believe.

A feast for the eyes, and a treat for the soul.

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What can I say? The best things in life truly are free!

10 Truths About Solo Travel

Discovering new destinations and far-off lands. Immersing yourself in a totally new culture and language. Living every day as the new adventure that it is. All while on your own terms, on your own journey of discovery, which doesn’t only mean places, but it also means of ‘Self’. That is what solo travel is all about.

I personally love solo travel more than anything else. For me, it’s where I connect with myself and the world on the deepest level. It’s a time where you will be pushed so far out of your element, that you have no choice but to grow and transform.

My solo travels have taken me around Central and South America, across the Amazon, throughout Africa from South Africa to Egypt, all around Europe and on my own home soil of Canada.

Through it all, you do tend to learn a few things, and a bit more.

Here are 10 truths that I have learned from my life experiences of solo travel.

1. Booking The Flight Is The Hardest Part – yes you read that right. The majority of the time we can think too much about that solo trip that we yearn to take. The new destination that we want to discover. All while doing exactly that. Just thinking about it. Once you take that step of booking your ticket, you suddenly just solidified the trip. The rest is just details now. You’re doing it! You’re going on your solo adventure.

2. You Will Be Challenged – let’s be real here. If you are taking yourself completely out of your comfort zone, away from everyone and everything that you know, you will absolutely be challenged. It’s a whole new ballpark out there. Challenge is amazing though and is best received when welcomed. If you remind yourself that through a challenge is where you become a better version of yourself, then there is nowhere to go but up. To live boldly is to accept a challenge, and use it as a catapult to the next amazing step of your life.  With or without solo travel, life will be challenging. Plus, you can pick easier destinations for your solo trip. Ease your way into it. I chose the most difficult because I am always looking for a new challenge.

3. You Will Develop Your Intuition – it’s true, you and that little voice that you often ignore in your day to day life, will suddenly become best friends. As the way, it should be. Your intuition knows what’s going on, and it will never steer you wrong. When you are navigating through new and foreign lands, you will learn very fast that you best be listening to your inner voice. It is your built-in compass. Developing your intuition will continue to be a tool that strengthens the rest of your life. This is a massive gift you will receive from solo travel.

4. You Will Get To Know Yourself Very Well – when it is just you and the open road of adventure, you have no one to lean on but yourself. At times things will be amazing, other times tough, and regardless of what situation presents itself, you will only have YOU to get on with it. Celebrating the highs and lows. You will come to know yourself very deeply. How you feel, how you react, what you truly like and dislike. It’s incredible. It is also a gift you will receive from solo travel. The gift that will keep on giving.

5. You Will Not Be Lonely – as opposed to what a lot of people think, travelling solo is not lonely at all. In fact, when you are alone, you are so open to everything, that you easily meet people. So much easier then when you are travelling with others, as when you are with others, you tend to get in your bubble and meet a lot fewer people. When I am alone, I meet not just other travellers, but so many more locals. They always invite me places, show me off the beaten track things, and I find I get the real cultural experience of the country in this way. I have so many more opportunities that present themselves when I am alone. Funny enough, you meet so many people when you are solo, it can be hard to get time to be SOLO.

6. Hostels Are A Great Place To Stay – let’s just say if you ever do find yourself actually feeling a tad lonely, then just go check into a hostel. You will make new friends immediately in any hostel. There are dorm rooms for the tight budget or private rooms if you prefer your privacy. I have stayed in plenty of stunningly beautiful and immaculately clean hostels in my time. Travel books and websites will always rate hostels, just as they do hotels, so you will have a good idea of what you will be arriving at. Many times over I have met amazing travel buddies at hostels, who are going in the same direction as me, so we team up to travel together for a bit. I have actually met some of my lifelong best friends in hostels.

7. When You Are Alone, People Will Go Out Of Their Way To Help You – that is after they question you if you are crazy for travelling alone. I have had that questions posed to me SO many times, particularly in third world countries where even the locals feel unsafe a lot of the time. Always, you will have people looking out for you when you are solo, making sure you are safe, that you get to your destination, that you are not getting ripped off. It’s truly amazing the beauty you will see in humanity when you are on a solo trip.

8. Single Supplement Costs Are Higher – yes, yes they are. If you are travelling with people you then are able to split costs of taxi’s, rooms, and get group costs on excursions. However, if I am craving ‘me time’ and just wanting to bask in my own company, then that is priceless and worth every extra penny so my vibes get recharged and remain high as heck.

9. If You Are A Solo Female, You Will Receive A lot Of Extra Male Attention – this is also depending on what continent you are on. Europe and North America are generally fine, but the catcalls in Central and South America can be a bit much, and the attention in Africa, will for sure become mentally exhausting. If you just take it all with a grain of salt, keep alert and level-headed, with a positive demeanour, and just remember it is truly just all part of the experience, then you will be just fine.

10. It Will Be The Most Freeing Experience Of Your Life – it’s like spread your wings and fly baby! Seriously, solo travel is a whole new realm. It’s all about you and what you want. Where you want to go, what you want to see, and what you want to eat. Sometimes in life, if only for a brief moment, it is so important to just DO YOU. That is what you get when you travel solo. A nice chunk of time where nothing else matters but you and spreading your awesome high vibes everywhere you go. You will get a taste of freedom like none other, and your eyes will be opened to the importance of finding and creating a bit of freedom in your everyday life. Soul food.

If you have never taken a solo trip in your life, then I highly recommend doing so.  Potentially you will find solo travel isn’t your thing, and you will decide that in the future you will only do group trips. Or perhaps like me, you will be feeling like ‘this is your jam’. Either way, I can guarantee you will come back from it with a stronger mindset, a deeper connection within yourself, a friendship with your intuition and some darn good stories.

The truth is, no matter how solo our trip may be, we are never truly alone.

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How To Feel Safe When You Are Traveling Solo As A Female

Solo travel. It can sound so daunting sometimes. Time and time again I have had so many people question me in regards to the matter. ‘How do you do it?’, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’.

I literally just do it, and don’t really think about it. It is something that comes very naturally to me. I love traveling alone, although if you are in the company of a very good travel companion(which can be hard to find) then I much prefer traveling with someone at times. It truly depends on where I am going. Every continent and culture is different.

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There are pros and cons to everything in life though. When you are alone, you get charged higher prices for everything, you get harassed more(again, depending on which continent your on), and when you get lost and have no idea where you are going, you have absolutely no one to lean on. It’s all on you baby.

Although on the plus side, when you are alone you get to go where and when you want, there is nobody holding you back. You meet plenty of more people and locals where you are, and there are always people that want to help you. If you are with someone, people tend to leave you alone and not reach out in the same way.

However if you are alone, there are some tactics you can use to make sure you feel safe.

Always be aware of your surroundings and situations. Kind of like how your peripheral vision works, you want to make sure your keeping mental tabs of what is happening around you. When you are aware that also means you are alert, which in turn will help you stay safe. I mean if someone was following you, it would be a lot easier to pick up if you are being aware. Be very careful going wandering alone when you have been drinking.

Make eye contact with people when you speak with them. You can tell so much by looking into someones eyes. If they are dodgy it will for sure show in their eyes and in their mannerisms. It has always helped me read people much faster.

Don’t wear expensive flashy things. It will only draw attention to you and make you a target. When I am traveling in destinations that have high crime rates and poverty, I stick to handmade local jewelry, and I don’t carry a lot of cash or valuables with me.

I always carry a purse, but I always choose a purse that goes across my body and closes very well. That way it stays close to me and is not easily broken into. If I am on a bus and sleeping, I make sure that I am holding my bag straight beneath my hands. That way if anyone tried to grab it I would already have a hold of it.

It doesn’t hurt to get a money belt for under your clothes as well.

Take a photo copy of your passport. I usually lock my passport in the safe where ever I stay, that way I know it will be safe. In place of it, I always have a photo copy and an extra photo ID.

Having a cheap cell phone with a local SIM where ever you go, will make sure that you always have a means of contact. If you ever feel scared or alone its so nice to be able to call or text someone. Also if you are heading on a long trek with some dodgy traveling, you can make sure to keep in extra contact with help if you needed it.

Make friends with locals. It has also really been a great advantage to feeling safe when I make friends with locals along the way. If I get good vibes off someone I will always strike up a chat. When you are with a local, people will leave you alone and the other plus is you will get local prices in the places that way up charge tourist. Trust me, I have been ripped off a couple times in my travels. But generally the locals always love to meet foreigners, and I have made some amazing life long friends this way.

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Definitely carry a lock. If you are staying at hostels and things, the majority of them will have lockers in the rooms for your valuables and bags. Now make sure its a good quality lock as locks can be broken. There was a time in Malawi that I had a funny feeling in my gut when I checked into this hostel, so instead of locking my bag in the lockers, I stuffed mine under the bed. It could barely fit, but I got under. Turned out that the rooms and lockers got broken into, passports and valuables taken, and since I listened to my gut, my stuff was fine.

Which leads me to another point. Always listen to your intuition. We have it for a reason and it is always right. Any time I ignored it, something went wrong.

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Make sure to always have a little stash of backup money tucked away. Being prepared for everything and a little more will always keep you at ease.

Sometimes you just have to be strong minded. When I was traveling in Central/South America and Africa, I had to just be strong at times. Particularly with how I carried myself. Men can be very forward and quite aggressive. So I would always make sure to walk confidently and with purpose, and if they did harass me I would make it clear not to come to close simply with my demeanor and body language. It would usually end the men whom were trying to be pushy telling me I am very strong(I was just a well seasoned traveler) and they would retreat.

Dress appropriately. Unless harassment and male attention is what you want, it is better to be a little more modest then usual. It is best not to attract the wrong kind of attention when you are alone.

Always be very mindful of your alcohol and recreational fun. All it takes is for you to turn your back for one second to have something slipped into your drink. You never know what a stranger will give you, so be very aware and cautious.

Don’t arrive to a new place after dark. After dark is when things always get more dangerous. If you are going somewhere new, try and get there when it is still light, and only take registered taxi’s. Also it is very wise to have a room or bed pre-booked before you arrive.

Solo travel as a female generally does just come down to common sense. I have done loads of global solo travel and had the most amazing experiences of my life. Some tough of course, but that is to be expected no matter where or what you are doing with life.

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Also it is so easy to meet other travelers along the way, and many times you end up traveling for awhile with some of them. It can happen so often I would sometimes have to purposely choose to go on, on my own, so I could enjoy a bit of ‘me time’ again.

There truly is something so invigorating and freeing about solo travel. If you have often thought about it, and yet havn’t, then I highly suggest giving it a go! It will shape your mindset in a whole new way. Happy Trails!

Solo Road Tripping – How To Be Awesome On a Long Ass Drive

Recently I once again undertook the long ass drive from Calgary, Alberta to Northwest Territories. Having spent the most of year in Calgary, being awesome as planned, it’s coming to fall, which is one of my favorite times of year to be back home in Northwest Territories. The leaves start to change color, mother nature surrounds you like a beautiful painting full of stunning orange hues, and I can wear a few more layers of style. It’s just darn wonderful. Seeing as how it’s coming up time for me to head back to Mallorca, Spain, home time in the NWT is exactly where it’s at for me right now. How lucky am I to live this awesome life that I get to split up between my favorite places. Although, I created my life to be this way, and it’s possible for anyone.

Now usually the drive the from Calgary to my hometown in the Northwest Territories is about 14 hours, but I had decided to take my sweet ass time and stop to see any appealing sights along the way – so this time around it turned into a hard 22 hours. Hard, but enjoyable. I love my road trips, it’s the best time to have epic ‘me time‘, bask in my own awesome company and crank my tunes while taking in all the scenery. I just make the most of every situation life gives me.

I embarked on my journey at around 8:30AM, a tad later then planned, but only because I may have enjoyed an epic wine fueled laugh session with a couple of friends the previous evening. As if you can leave a place with out spending time with your peeps. It was way to much darn fun. Totally worth it. The late start and the sore head. I grabbed fuel for my car, and then fuel for myself from Starbucks, and I was on the road once again.

Calgary to Edmonton goes by pretty fast it’s only 3 hours, and with the highways being so busy between the two, it’s a breeze. Just outside Edmonton located by the little town of Devon, is the Devonian Gardens. I have driven by them for so many years with the intention of stopping, but previously when I tried it was always just out of season, and was closed. This time around, it was in season, and open! So I pulled on in and was ready for the ‘garden experience’ I had so long awaited.

I truly was blown away by this gem of a botanical gardens, they were much more then I expected.

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They have loads of different area’s from wet lands, to rose gardens, a butterfly area,

All the way to Japanese zen gardens, just to name a few.

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I was in heaven! I love nature, and this nature hideaway happened to be lush, immaculately maintained and smelled absolutely divine.

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It was the best pit stop ever to fill my soul with awesomeness for the rest of the trip. Although I ended up spending a couple of hours there, so it absolutely lengthened my trip. Well worth it though! You could spend all day in there.

Seeing as how by time I left the botanical gardens it was already near 3 in the afternoon, there really weren’t a lot of other places to pull into as they would all be closing. I continued on my merry way cranking my tunes, and just taking it all in. I always have so much going on in my little imaginative mind, that rarely do I ever get bored.

I stop for tea and coffee quite often too, I usually always like to have a tea on the go. I was in absolutely no rush, I was literally just going with the awesome flow. After driving North for the rest of the day, past plenty of farm land, rain storms, and quaint little towns, I finally arrived to High Level, Alberta at around midnight.

High Level is the last little town in Northern Alberta before you arrive to the NWT, and from there it is about a 3 hour drive to my home town. It’s the home stretch from then on in. Seriously though, all this dilly dallying around was starting to catch up, and 2 hours away from home I decided to pull over and take a power nap. I don’t believe in forcing yourself to stay awake, it only brings on accidents if you happen to fall asleep at the wheel. If your on a road trip and you get tired, just freaken pull over. Not to mention, it was a full moon out and it was looking ridiculously appealing. My windshield offered the perfect front row seat to bask in the glow of the full moon. I always have a blanket and pillow with me, so I am fully prepared in case I need a nap.

Cozy as heck, I ended up snoozing for 4 hours! I clearly needed it though. I woke up and it was light out, so I hit the highway. It wasn’t long before I made it to the NWT border.


Tired, grubby and rough on the exterior, but just as happy as always to see that beauty of a sign.

Between High Level, and Hay River(where I was heading) there is a place called Indian Cabins. A random shop in the middle of nowhere that sells off sale liquor, gas, snacks.

I was hoping for coffee, but it wasn’t open yet. I was able to have a good laugh at myself though, because the last time I was there, I got locked in this very outhouse at -30 degree Celsius weather.

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Yes, it was freaken cold! And Snowy when it all went down.

Not the most amazing experience of my life. Trust me though, I learned some very valuable lessons and even wrote an article about it.

3 Steps To Take When Your Locked In An Out House. Only me, only freaken me…..

Have a peak at the video blog I posted about my road trippin’ adventures while your here.

Not gonna lie, I was pretty darn excited when I finally arrived home! I loved every minute of that road trip, but I was also ready for it to be done 22 hours later.

So ladies and gentlemen, if your looking to be awesome on a long ass drive, may I suggest to stop and smell the flowers, just go with the awesome flow of it all, crank your tunes, sing your little heart out, and be open to whatever may come your way. As they say(still trying to figure out who they are?!) – It’s not always about the destination, it’s the journey along the way.  

Sign up to my email list to come on more random pursuit’s of life with me. I would love to have you.

 

Losing Hope In Malawi, And Being Saved By Beautiful Strangers

I had just arrived to Lilongwe the capital of Malawi after a 36 hour bus ride from Mozambique, on a local African bus, that was falling apart, overcrowded, and had no cushioning on the seats. Not to mention, I was one of the lucky ones to get stuck sitting in the middle on one of the fold out chairs, that literally only went half way up my back.

My back has ever been that sore in my entire life, no exaggeration. I could barely walk after that.

I hadn’t taken any money out of the bank before the journey, as I just figured I would withdraw some once I arrived to Lilongwe. No big deal right?! Upon arrival it took everything I had in me to gain feeling in my body again, and struggle to get off the bus, as I think I was on the verge of being paralyzed. To this day, I don’t think stretching has never felt so darn good or so darn bad at the exact same time.

‘Hello Malawi!’. I was still pretty excited to be there. A new destination to be explored, and adventures to be had.

With my backpack and massage table in tow I took off in search of a bank.  I only had about the equivalent of $30 on me, which doesn’t get you far when everyone you meet keeps ripping you off.

Right away a local guy came and picked up my massage table without asking, and started carrying it away. I began following him, he seemed to know I was en route to the bus into town and headed in that direction. As soon as we got to the bus, the guy puts my table down and tells me I have to give him a certain amount of money, and it was a a very large chunk out of what I had, much more then what a tip should be for such a short walk.

I was extremely sore and tired from the journey though, and I didn’t have it in me to argue or barter, so I just gave him what he asked for and got on the bus.

After forking over another good chunk of what I had left for the bus ride(which I found out later I was once again totally ripped off), I finally get off in town.

It was ridiculously hot, and I needed a shower badly, can you say 38 hour bus ride through extreme heat?! And I was wearing jeans(need longs to protect from malaria on bus rides), and melting, especially with also carrying all my luggage which consisted of a 70 liter backpack, a 25 pound massage table, and another hand held bag.

Yes, you could say my clothes were sticking to me, and yes, it felt awful, and I know it was not one of my most attractive moments. Thank goodness for a bit of perfume! Although that didn’t mask my greasy look.

Needing a break from carrying enough stuff for a mule and profusely sweating,  I ended up asking a security guard at a property if I could leave my massage table with him while I went on my mission to find a bank to which he kindly obliged. YES! that was a big load off my shoulders. Literally! My 70 litre backpack never felt so light.

First bank I came across I was so happy to find,  and it didn’t work with my card… ‘That sucks’ I thought. But ok, ‘Let’s find another one shall we?’…. Second bank, and once again, it doesn’t work with my card.  Alright then, no need to worry I told myself, third time’s a charm.  Or so they say, and this time it wasn’t so charming.

Yes, once again, the bank didn’t work with my card.  Malawi was definitely giving me a warm welcome, especially in my worn out condition. However gotta keep going! So I decided I would grab the bus and go back to the Lilongwe where there was the closest thing to a hostel that existed, and it would give me a chance to reassess the situation I was faced with.  Off I went to collect my table, and tip the guard as much as I could afford(especially since he didn’t ask for anything), as my means were almost out.

Just as I was getting money out for the security guard, two local guys once come and just grabbed my table and the small bag and start carrying them off back towards the bus.  They were watching me since I had arrived and knew exactly where I was heading.

Having learned my lesson previous to the last bus ride, ‘that this help is not free’,  I began running after them telling them to ‘Stop’, as at this point I didn’t have money to give them, I didn’t even have enough for myself.

They just kept on going, and didn’t pay me any attention at all.  As soon as they put my stuff down, they turn around and tell me they want 1000 Kwacha, so 500 each. ‘What?’ I say… ‘I cannot give you that, because it’s all I have to my name and I did not ask you to carry my bags, in fact I was running after you telling you to stop’.

They didn’t speak English, so it escalated quickly, and they started getting really angry with me. I was trying to explain, I literally only have 1000 Kwacha to my name at the moment.  However that was getting me nowhere, as they could not understand a word I was saying.

Suddenly people in the streets started to crowd around and ask what’s going on..  I am now super stressed at this point, and even more extremely exhausted from the long and painful trip up from Mozambique.  I once again start explaining my situation to the English speakers that arrived. I explained how I did not ask for their service, I was telling them to stop and they wouldn’t listen, that I have no money, other then my only 1000 kwacha, and I had no idea what I was going to do.

The people then said, ‘So what are you saying? You want to break the 1000 Kwacha bill and give them 500 each?’.  ‘No’, I responded, ‘I am saying it is all I have,  I can’t access any more money’.  At this point I am pulling everything out of my purse to show everyone crowded around how empty my wallet is and that it really is ALL I have….

Well suddenly everyone was yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand, I was alone, exhausted, and now at my breaking point. It was getting a bit crazy, and suddenly a few tears of stress rolled down my face, and I started saying and yelling ‘Give me my stuff! Take if off the bus!’. As if I actually had another plan. I probably would have just sat in the street and cried for awhile till I formed another plan of action.

Well as soon as those tears came out, a few of the locals started pushing everyone away from me and yelling, ‘Get away from her, the white girl is crying, leave her alone!’. At which point I was escorted onto the bus.

As I was sitting by the window, trying to comprehend what just happened and get my baring’s, a women came up to the window and said, ‘Excuse me miss’, I turned and looked at her and she continued, ‘I am very sorry about my people’.

When I looked in her eyes I could see the sincerity, and instantly felt a calming feeling come over me. To which I lovingly gazed back and responded, ‘Thank you, but please don’t say it’s your people,  it’s not your people, we are all just people, and it’s simply an unfortunate situation’.

It was when I paid the gentlemen on this bus ride going back, that I seen how bad I had been ripped off on my way there.

By time we arrived, I was all dusted off and ready to continue my mission. So off I went to the hostel, to see if I can figure something out, and perhaps they would give me a bed or a locker while I sorted my financial situation. That didn’t happen though, they told me they will not give me a bed until I get my money situation sorted.

Alright, off I go again, with almost no energy left in me. I came across the swanky Protea Hotel.  I thought to myself, ‘Ok, it’s going to be pricey, but I bet there they accept cards’, as a that time not many places did and I was running out of options, at least even if it’s a splurge it will buy me a day to figure out how I will access my money.

I walk up to the counter, I am told its $250US a night…. What other choice did I have at the moment, so I give my card, only to be told, they can’t accept it?! Are you kidding me?

Yes that’s right, it’s a travel visa, so the numbers are printed on the card, not embedded, and well, this is Africa! They only have the old machine to take an imprint of the card, not an electronic machine.  ‘ This seriously is not my day!’ I was thinking. As per always, I managed to keep a smile on my face, and I ask the women at the counter if I can book online, and she responded ‘No, its not possible’.

‘Can I please speak to the manager?’ I asked. I tell him my situation, and ask if he can just let me check in and I will get some money sent through Western Union to me from Canada with no problem at all.  ‘Nope’. Is exactly what he said.  But, he will let me make a phone call… Alright I call my mom in Canada. I was getting desperate at this point, and I tell her my situation. Of course as I am stressed and a bit scared now, I start telling her the fact of the matter. It’s going to be dark soon, and I am on the verge of being stuck in the streets of Malawi, with all my stuff, it;s not going to be a safe situation, and nobody will help me.  Well yes, a lesson I learned a few times in my life is, ‘Don’t tell your mother all the exact details when your doing a solo trip across Africa!!’ Obviously, its going to freak her right out.

With my mom having said she was going to western union straight away, relief came over me.  Problem was,  it was getting close to 5 at this point, that’s when western union closes, and its only getting close to 9am back in Canada, and that is what time western union in my town opened up. This was also before you could do online transfers. Africa is behind the times a bit.

My mom was hoping someone would be in the shop early to help her out.  So I ran to the Western Union office, and the women whom were working there kept checking and checking for my transfer.  Nothing. They stayed open till 5:30 for me.

Finally they said, that they have no choice but to shut, and they are so sorry.  Well that was the cherry on top of the cake and the tip of my emotional breaking point again.  It’s now getting dark, and its definitely not safe for me to be in the streets at night, not to mention, alone, and with all my belongings. I was absolutely losing hope at that point, and stressful, scared tears streamed down my face.

One of the women came over and hugged me, and asked how much a room was.  I told her at the hostel its 1100 Kwacha a night.  It might be a cheap hostel to a backpacker, but for a local women in Malawi, that is half of her month’s salary. With no hesitation, she says, ‘she will give me the money’.

Suddenly she took on the appearance of an Angel! My eyes opened in astonishment, gratitude and bit of disbelief. I was so beyond thankful, words can’t express my gratitude. I promised her I would give her the 1100 and even more then that back the next day. She just kept repeating, ‘don’t worry, just take care of yourself’.

Finally, I arrived back to the hostel, got a bed, and was thinking after all that, I could really use a good stiff drink. My nerves where shot., but I still had no money. I only had enough for the bed.

I began chatting with the other travelers in my dorm room, and I was telling them the tale of my crazy roller coaster ride of a day. Everyone was shocked and felt so bad for me, they all wanted to buy me a drink. Winning! And off we went to the hostel bar, where everyone was treating me, we were laughing, and having the best party ever.

A little later on, I was sitting at the bar having a chat with this guy, whom was also an avid world traveler. As we were having a chat about the events of my day,  he got up to go to the washroom, and on his return, he sits down and pulls out a wad of Kwacha with a clip on it and holds it out to me.  It’s maybe the equivalent of $40, which is a lot when you are backpacking, and a lot in the local currency, so it really is a wad of cash.  I automatically say, ‘No, no, no, I can’t take your money.’

He looked at me and said, ‘Listen, I have been travelling a long time too, and I know what it’s like when you run into these unforeseen situations.  I will most likely never see you again, and I don’t want anything given back for it. I simply want you to have this, so that at the very least you have something.’  And he put it in my hand.

We finished our beer, and he got up and left.

We did not exchange details, and never seen him again. I was blown away and completely touched by his selfless act. It is something I will never forget. That man must have had some good Karma in his court.

After all these incredible and heartfelt events taking place, and me back to loving life, I suddenly remembered, ‘Oh no! I forget to call my mom!?’ Everything just happened so fast, and I went from having the worst day to the best day, and I was now having the time of my life with all my new friends. The last thing my mom heard from me was that I was scared, penniless, and on the verge of having to fight for my life in the streets of Malawi.

So I borrowed a phone to call her.  ;OMG, Petrena!! Where are you?!’ she screeched. ‘I have the people from the Protea hotel driving all over the place looking for you!?’ Clearly she was completely panic stricken, and yet you could hear the reassured thankfulness in her voice to hear me alive. Oops.

‘I am Ok, actually I am better then ok, I am doing freaken amazing’ I tell her. ‘You wouldn’t believe all the incredible things that happened to me!’ I exclaimed.  Well yes my mothers sigh of relief was so big you could feel it, not just hear it.

One frantic and very upset mothers email to the Protea’s head office in South Africa, tearing them apart for thinking it’s alright to leave a foreign young women stranded in the streets, and giving false information about the ability to book online(when in fact you could book and pay online), was enough to get some quick action out of them.

After an incredible night with all my new friends in the hostel the hotel concierge picked me up the next day for a night in the hotel, and the general manager met with me in his office and he profusely apologized, and showed me the email my mom had sent to the office.

Yes I could see why he was so apologetic. Her motherly instinct, and direct wording, sure got things done.

My poor mother, the scares I have put her through on my solo travels.  Not going to lie, one night of luxury and a comfy bed was a ‘huge unexpected treat‘ after hitchhiking, crazy bus rides, sleeping on dirt floors in rural villages, and that painful almost unbearable bus trip from Mozambique. Knowing I still had a long way to go, it was a super rejuvenating evening.

I finally got my financial situation sorted, and I went back to Western Union so I could repay that Angel of a women double what she had given me.  Now she was the incredibly thankful one, it was amazing how her eyes lit up.

Yet she did more for me then she will ever know. She saved me when my last bit of hope was lost. She was the propeller for all the incredible events that followed.

To top it all off, after I left Western Union, a women approached me in the streets and starting telling me a sad story of how she needed this medicine and didn’t have money for it. I felt so bad, and so decided to give her the money. She kept raising the price of the medicine and in the end I gave her 2000 Kwatcha. Little did I know, that is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Ripped off once again. That was fine though. Another lesson learned.

In reality, what is wealth if not to be shared, and I had so many people share with me by that point, I was happy to give.

No matter what happens in life, if you make it through the worst, most hopeless moments of despair, and those moments where your suddenly feeling more alone then ever with you head held high and a positive outlook with a mindset to succeed and make it work – the moments to follow, are always unbelievable, unimaginable, and unforgettable. More then you could ever believe they would be.

Through all this, when I think back to the events that took place, it is not the hardships of that day that stand out in my mind.  What I remember when I think back to that day, is the incredible kindness that was shown to me by some beautiful strangers in Malawi.