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Goodbye Children Hello Chicago

The first time my kids flew to Japan by themselves I was a little nervous. They’d done the trip a few times before, but never alone. It was my first winter as a single mom and I was used to traveling with my kids but this year they were going to visit my ex in Japan on their own. The flight he had booked for them had a stopover in Chicago, and since they were only 11 and 14, I decided to fly the first leg of the journey with them to sure they got onto the second flight safely. One of the biggest shocks to a newly single mom’s system, is getting used to not having your kids all the time, and letting them do things like fly across the world by themselves. But as I have come to learn… there are good and bad aspects to everything.

The stopover in Chicago was less than an hour so timing would be tight. And as it turned out, our flight from Toronto to Chicago was half an hour late. Luckily, the second flight was also late taking off, but we didn’t know that so there was a mad scramble to get them from gate to gate.

The kids had their carry on bags with them so they were ready to run, but mine had been checked in so I needed to wait. Since I was stuck, an airline personnel had to rush with my kids to their next flight while I stayed and waited anxiously for my bag.

It took about 5 minutes for my bag to come out, which seemed like an eternity, but I grabbed it and ran as soon as it did. People must have thought I was a crazy woman sprinting through the Chicago airport, dodging small families and leaping fallen luggage with a frantic look in my eye that only a mother who has lost her kids could have.

When I got to the kids gate, they had already boarded and were waiting for takeoff. They actually sat on the runway for a good 40 minutes while I paced back and forth inside the window looking out and waving madly at the plane in case they happened to look my way.

It was a relief to get that over with. When the plane finally took off, I had no choice but to relax. And realizing I had two days to myself in Chicago, I calmly made my way to the train. I was pleased to discover that Chicago has one of the best train systems for getting from the airport into the city I have ever seen. If I remember correctly, the one way fare was about $3 and in under an hour I was in central Chicago.

I had booked a room at the Freehand Chicago (again, through booking.com) for $27/night and it was great. I had one of four bunks in a clean, friendly female dorm. There were two other girls in the room who were students on their spring break and one bunk was empty. Each bunk had a curtain that you could pull across for privacy, so with my earplugs and mask that I always travel with, I was set.

The downstairs of the Freehand Chicago was a lively bar in the evenings, and a funky cafe in the day. It was within walking distance to everything so I spent the next day walking around Chicago’s art galleries, shops, and millennium park, and the night discovering some of the city’s thriving jazz spots.

It was a two day getaway and a glimpse into what was possible as a single mom traveler. And I was excited to be finally feeling like I was on the right path.

A week later, I would fuel my wanderlust further and book a last minute trip to Mexico.

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Backpacking Mexico As A Single Mom

The first year on my own after 17 years of marriage was full of positive changes. And the fear of change I had felt before separating quickly turned to love for my new independent life and self.

I found a great house to rent near my kids school. I leased a my first ever new car. I rediscovered my passion for art and reconnected with old friends. And that first winter, I also reignited my passion for backpacking and adventure travel, and booked a trip to Mexico while my kids were away visiting my ex in Japan.

I grabbed a last minute flight to Cancun two days before I left. And because I hadn’t backpacked in awhile, I used booking.com to reserve my first two nights at “Harmony Glamping” in Tulum.

I arrived into the Cancun airport with my small carry on bag and headed for the ADO bus that was outside the airport doors. I paid 120 pesos (US$6) for the first bus to Playa del Carmen, and then switched to a second bus to Tulum for about 55 pesos. The journey took a few hours but the bus was air conditioned, comfortable, and safe, and I was traveling alone at night. When I arrived into Tulum, I checked into my Glamping accommodation. It turned out to be a beautiful, fully equipped tent. The rest of the property didn’t look quite as nice as the website but still, it was a great place to land and I felt safe there.

The next day, I walked into town and rented a bike. I met another backpacker at the bike shop so we decided to cycle to the beach and spend the day together.  It took about 30 minutes to get to the beach where we hung out in the white sand most of the day, and then rode over to the Tulum ruins before back into town. Tulum beach is one of the best beaches in the world for kiteboarding so the following day, I went back and took a lesson.

I was glad I had only booked a couple of nights in Tulum though because after a few days, I was ready to move on. On the third day, I took a quick day trip to Coba, one of the famous Mayan ruins in the area, and then jumped on another bus for the coast. Playa del Carmen was awful. It was full of tourists from the never ending sea of cruise ships and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

My next stop was Puerto Morelas, a small fishing village north of Playa del Carmen. It was wonderful. I found a great room in a small hotel for $30/night and met some people in the restaurant that I ended up going out for dinner with and then to the beach with the next day.

I stayed in Puerto Morelas for two nights and then continued north to Puerto Juarez where I caught a ferry to the Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast. Ferry boats leave every half an hour all day until 9pm. The crossing takes about 15 minutes.

For the last leg of my trip on Isla Mujeres, I was getting pretty comfortable backpacking, and decided to book a youth hostel. I reserved a bed at the Azucar Hostel through booking.com because it looked smaller and quieter than the other hostels in the area. Being in my 40s I wasn’t sure how it would be in a youth hostel, but it was truly amazing. One of my  roommates was another woman my age from California, one in her fifties from the UK, and a young girl from Scandinavia who was volunteering at the local animal shelter. We had a blast snorkelling and biking together during the days and salsa dancing in the evenings. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried!

Mexico was a great first solo adventure for me as a single mom. And as long as I have adventure in my life, I am one happy mama.

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After our 3 week family trip to Japan for my son’s karate tournament in July, our friend Dave asked us to come back and work for him for the winter. We would help him manage his 80+ staff in his ski school, run the cafe, and enjoy the Japanese Alps. It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and all that we needed to do was rent out our house and pull the kids out of school for four months. So we did.

I was also yearning to put more travel into my life, and possibly a breath of life into my failing marriage. I thought a bit of travel may be just what it needed, and it would be a wonderful family adventure for us all at the very least.

I booked our first night at the Hotel Nikko Narita for $85 through Booking.com which worked out perfectly after our long flight from Toronto. It had a free shuttle bus from the airport and was directly across the street from the best ramen I have ever tasted in my life for about $6/bowl. Welcome to Japan!

The next morning we took the train into Tokyo and then a 5 hour bus to Hakuba. There are a few ways to get to Hakuba from Tokyo but I have found the Alpico bus to be the most direct and the cheapest. It leaves from Shinjuku station and costs about $45 one way.

Once in Hakuba, we settled into our winter home, The Windjacket. It was a big old house that was in rough shape and had no indoor heating …but was within walking distance to the ski lifts. Lesson #1 for the kids was learning to adapt, which they did quickly. We lived with about 20 international staff who were in their 20s and 30s and who the kids absolutely loved. As a mother, I loved the fact that they had 20 ‘big brothers and sisters’ looking out for them all the time.

During the day, we would work and ski, and at night we would hang out with our international family, and do some homeschooling with the kids. It was surprising how little time they actually needed to homeschool to keep up with their peers.

We used Kahnacademy.org and mathxl.com to keep up in math. We used kto12reader.com for reading and spelling. We used RosettaStone to keep up in French. We wrote journals every day and read books. We looked on youtube and other sites for science and geography. It was an education they couldn’t get at home and they didn’t fall behind which was the main thing. In fact, when we returned to Canada the next April, the kids were ahead in most subjects.

It was our second trip to Japan with the kids that year and it was a lot of fun. We skied a lot, made a ton of new and adventurous friends, saved some money, and enjoyed Japanese food. But the hopes I had of the trip healing my marriage were in vain. Instead, it made me realize that my ex and I were heading in different directions and that change was imminent.

The following year, Dave asked us to come back to work in Japan for him again. I agreed to go back while we figured out our next move. That winter, we officially enrolled the kids in Japanese school while we were there. Here is a photo of my daughter at lunch time. In Japan, they have hot lunches and all the kids serve it up and clean up afterwards. We had to buy my daughter a special apron and mask to wear so she could help. Unfortunately, the whole Japanese school thing only lasted about a week. It turned out to be really ineffective as they didn’t speak a word of Japanese and would just sit there all day. We pulled them out and went back to homeschooling. And although it was another fun winter full of adventures and beauty, we did end up separating when we got back the following April.

And now we are all much happier.

Since separating, my ex continues to go back to Japan each winter to work for Dave, and when the kids visit him in March, I take a trip somewhere warm and exciting.

 

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When my son was chosen to go be one of our karate club’s members to go to the World Championships in Osaka, Japan, when he was 11, I couldn’t say no.

You see, I lived in Japan for 5 years before I was married, and I have always dreamed of going back to travel with my kids there.

When my son, Keenan, was chosen to go to Japan to compete, it was a kick in the butt to finally do it.

Training and fundraising took up the year leading up to the trip, but it was worth every bit of work to get there. What a great experience for Keenan …and for all of us. And what a proud mom I was watching him compete at an international event! From the karate tournament itself with 18 participating countries, to the Japanese culture and the Japanese food and lovely people, every single moment was incredible.

Team Canada has 40 members, and although the Japanese won everything, everyone was proud of how they did. And the 5 days we all spent together were inspiring to say the least.

During the tournament week, we stayed with a homestay family in Osaka, who happened to have 2 kids the same age as mine. They showed us around the area and hosted for 5 nights, including taking us to Universal Studios in Osaka.

Osaka in July is stinking hot. The humidity is unbearable. And Universal
studios was packed. But there is something tropically magical about it and it was an experience I would not change at all. Except the part about me being carsick on the way home. That was embarrassing. The photo on the right is us standing in line for the “Jaws” ride with our homestay hosts. It was a 90 minute wait and my daughter has been terrified to swim ever since.

After the tourament ended, we headed to a small mountain village called Hakuba, which is in the Japanese Alps, for our second week. Hakuba is which where my (now ex) husband and I lived for 5 years before we were married. So after 15 years, we felt a tinge of ‘heading home’ to see our friends Dave and Mariko who were still there and now have two kids and a ski school and cafe there. The feeling as our train pulled into the mountains was one of nostalgia and love. My kids felt it too. But it’s different now. When we lived there years ago, we were two of about 10 foreigners in the area. Now there are thousands of foreigners, mostly Australian, who have discovered the incredible skiing and hiking in Hakuba. At the risk, of letting more people in on the secret, it truly is one of the best places to ski the the world. Hands down.

In Hakuba, our friend Dave took us canyoning and biking, and we climbed the 3200 metre mountains, had BBQs in his cabin, and relived a bit of the the good old days. I recommend hiking in the Japanese Alps as a priority if you happen to be in the area. It’ll take you 5-6 hours to get to the top, but once you are there, you can stay in a fully functional hut for about $100/pp including dinner and breakfast. Or, you can carry your tent and supplies like we did. In another article, I’ll tell you about the time three of us got stuck up there in a blizzard for 3 days in May, completely unprepared, in a two man summer tent, and our cooking stove broke.

Hiking in Japan in the summer is my favourite thing to do, but during the third week of our trip, we packed in a bunch of other activities that were a ton of fun. Here are four that may be of interest to you if you are traveling in summer with kids (or not) in Tokyo or in the mountains of Japan.

The first is a place called Ninja Village, which is in Togakushi, just outside Nagano City. It’s a small theme park with all ninja themed activities for kids. Some of the activities are definitely not up to the safety standards we have in Canada but getting hurt is how you learn, right? My kids, who were 8 and 11 at the time loved the jungle gyms and climbing walls and obstacle courses that mimicked ninja training.

Another worthwhile thing to do in Tokyo if it’s a clear day, is the Hakone Loop day trip, also known as the Fuji Loop. You start by taking a train from wherever you are in Tokyo to Odawara station. Then transfer to the Hakone-Yumoto line. At Yumoto, purchase the ‘Hakone free pass’ for 3900 yen (about $40). In Japan, free doesn’t always mean free. It sometimes just means flexible or open-ended.

The Hakone loop consists of a scenic trip around Mt. Fuji that includes a single track train, followed by a cable car, ropeway, boat, and bus. We didn’t get to see Mt. Fuji on our trip around it because it was a cloudy day in July, but if the season it right, it’s a spectacular view. And even without seeing the famous volcano, it’s still a great day.

Kamikura is also a must see if you are near Tokyo. Kamikura shrine is one of the oldest and most sacred places in Japan. The town itself is full of shrines and shops as well the biggest statue of Buddha in the world. It’s a popular destination though so I would book accommodations before you go. Otherwise, you may end up in a “Love Hotel” like we did. But that’s another story.

The fourth place I recommend is the Jigokudani Monkey Park, otherwise known as the Monkey Hot Springs. It’s better in the winter but still worth a visit in the summer. And although it’s quite touristy, it’s not overwhelming, and it’s a great day trip from Nagano City. You can drive or take a bus to Shigakogen and then hike in from there. The park isn’t enclosed and the monkeys are all wild so although they are cute, they aren’t meant to be touched. They can be quite nasty if they feel threatened so keep a little distance. My daughter was especially enthralled with the babies, and we spent hours watching them interact.

I have so many stories from Japan but I will stop here, and leave some for other articles. I have spent a lot of time in Japan but the 3 week trip we did because of son competing in Osaka, was a really special trip. And as usual one good things usually leads to another… after we got back to Canada, our friend Dave contacted us to ask us to come back and work for him that following winter. So we did. That December, we took the kids out of school for four months and went back to Japan for a ski season and homeschooling adventure.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy travels.
Rebecca

PS If you would like me to help you set up a blog, put your name and email in the form on the right, and I will send you step by step details on exactly how to do it.

 

 

 

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Recently as I was sorting old boxes, I came across some old photos and journals from past travels, and ended up burying myself in them for a few hours. 

One of the journals I opened was from my 7 week trip to India in 1998. I had stayed in a little town called Mcleod Ganj where the Dalai Lama has a residence. Mcleod Ganj is a magical little village in the Himalayas where I did rooftop yoga sessions most mornings, hiking and exploring in the afternoons, and also attended a series of Buddhist Philosophy talks that some monks were doing at the Dalai Lama’s residence. The Dalai Lama himself was away that time, but I sat in the room of his residence pictured above with a mix of foreigners, monks, and locals, and listened and took notes that I’d like to share with you now.

The main idea of the talks was that the mind is the root of all. It takes work to control your mind and to discipline it. Your mind is like a wild animal that needs to be tamed.

What disturbs our mind are disturbing emotions, and when that happens there is a snowball effect that affects other people. It is so important to behave well, and refrain from negative actions and words in order to keep a positive life  That is why we have laws in society. Past Tibetan masters said “When with many people, take care about what you say and do. When alone, take care with your mind.”

If you make an effort to be more loving and kindhearted, your present life will become happier, better, and will benefit society as a whole. You will become a valuable member of your society.

Of course it’s not easy but you need to put in an effort to change your habits and to control your thoughts. Many people want to do something good or of value, but how many are really prepared to put in the energy and hard work to see results?

Results toward becoming a better person require commitment, put into constructive practice in every day life.

Listening to the monks talk, was inspiring to say the least. And thank goodness I took notes because reading them today brought me back to that feeling of wanting to be the best person I can be and to really pay attention to my mind. As a busy mother, I sometimes forget these little things that can make such a big impact like simply taking the time to think with purpose. But when they are put in front of you in your own handwriting, they are a refreshing reminder of what matters in the big picture of life.

Be kind. Treat others well. Control your mind in order to be happy.

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For my second winter as a single mom, and looking for adventure during the two weeks in March that I would be kidless, I decided to try Equador.

People sometimes ask me why I chose Equador and the main reason really came down to the fact I found a great deal on a flight that left 2 hours after my kids were scheduled to fly to Japan to see their father. The perfect timing meant we could all go to the airport together and I could go through customs and right to their gate with them. The only other factors were that it was hot and I had never been before.

But traveling alone as a single woman in South America did make me a little nervous. Not because I was actually scared but because people kept telling me I should be. The look in their eyes when I told them what I was doing was one of pure fear.

In my own mind, if I didn’t do stupid things like go out at night by myself or wander down unknown alleys, I felt pretty good about my decision. Still, I wanted to have a backup plan for my valuables as I toured the beautiful third world coasts.

I started researching underwear and bras with secret pouches and came across the Travel Bra.  It looked comfortable and efficient so I ordered. When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised that it was made of organic cotton and had more secret pouches than I had expected.

There was one for a credit card to slip in under my left arm, and a little one by my shoulder for small jewellery (even though I never travel with expensive jewellery to third world countries). There was one that hung down the front right side that was the perfect size for a passport, and another above my right boob for cash. Not only did the travel bra seems to be the perfect anti-theft bra, it was also super comfortable.

When I arrived into Quito at midnight on my own, I had the bulk of my cash, and my credit card stashed in my bra, and just my passport and a little taxi money in my purse. I wore my travel bra every day, and would rinse it out and hang it to dry at night. Ideally, I probably would have purchased a couple bras but in the end, everything worked out perfectly.

I didn’t have room for anything else my backpack anyway. In fact, I felt pretty proud of my packing because all the other ‘seasoned’ backpackers I met along the way were super impressed by my tiny bag, as they lugged their big packs from bus to bus. You really don’t need much when you travel in hot places and the less you take the better. (And yes, the backpack you see in this photo is all I took.)

The company I got the bra from has a few different styles but I got the original travel bra.  But, depending on your need, they also have a runner’s travel bra, a beach travel bra, an ultra-light travel bra, and even men’s travel trunks.

And I now have a special relationship with the company and they gave me a code to share with other travelers. I am happy to say that if you go to their site at www.thetravelbra.com and use code REBECCA20 at checkout and you’ll get 20% off.

And for those who are wondering how safe it is for single travel in Equador… all I can say is that if you are smart and use common sense then it is quite simply… Bueno!

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Greece Age 8 Officially Bitten By The Travel Bug

Here is a photo of me (green shirt), my younger sister, our friend Mary, Michaelis the old man with one ear, and Vasili the guy that ran the local taverna the time I spent the summer Greece. It was the year I officially caught the travel bug. It was the year Nadia Comaneci got perfect tens.

My mom and two of her girlfriends decided to take all eight of their kids out of school for the month of June and head to Crete for two months, leaving the fathers at home. It turned out to be my first big travel adventure and one that would have me craving more for the rest of my life.

I remember the group of us arriving into Athens and making our way to the island of Crete by ferry. At that time, there weren’t many other tourists in Greece, especially on the islands. And there definitely weren’t any single moms traveling around with their kids. In fact, the only other tourist at the time in our little village of Haraklion was a woman name Joanne. She was in her late twenties I thought she was the most glamourous woman on the planet. She wasn’t extremely pretty but her independent spirit was strong. Kind of like Wonder Woman.

We stayed for the bulk of our time in a pensione that was run by a woman named Katarina and her two children Nikos and Nifoula. I’m not sure but think her husband had run off. The room my mom, my sister, and I stayed in had 3 singles beds and was 50 cents/night.

We (the kids) used to wander the streets on our own, explore the beaches, and made friends with all the local shop owners. In my memory the moms weren’t around much and we did whatever we wanted most of the time.

The highlight of the trip for me was Donkey Island. At least, that’s what we called it. I don’t think it was officially named that. It was just a deserted island about 3 hours from shore that our moms had talked some fishermen into dropping us off on for the night. There weren’t any roads, or shops, or other people on it.

When the fishermen left us in the late afternoon with our picnic basket and sleeping bags, I couldn’t help wondering whether they would come back or not. And what would happen if their ship went down and nobody knew where we were. But that feeling passed quickly and soon we were exploring the island and making all kinds of exciting discoveries. That night, we lay our 11 sleeping bags in a row on the beach and counted shooting stars.

In the morning, the fishermen did return. To my delight, they proceeded to make us a fresh pot of eel soup for breakfast. To this day, it is the most delicious soup I have ever tasted.

Adventure was instilled in me at a very early age. My mom showed me how to do things despite people saying she was crazy. And I am so lucky for that because it taught me to do the same.

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How to Make A Lead Capture Page Free With Aweber

In this post I will show you how to make a lead capture page free with Aweber.

The two things you absolutely need in order to connect with people using the internet are a capture page and an autoresponder. If you aren’t sure if you really need these tools, then read this post because it will outline why they are important and how to  make a free lead capture page with Aweber.

Here’s a video I made on how to create a free lead capture page:

Why a capture page is so important…

A capture page is a one page site that offers it’s visitors something of value in exchange for their email. It’s different than a blog, but once people sign up on the capture page, they will be directed to your blog. And, once they are on your list, you can stay in touch with them long into the future.

If you have a capture page that offers a specific solution to your target market’s problem, then you you will be able to build a targeted list, give people what they want, and create a thriving presence online.

As long as you can figure out what your target market needs, you can offer them exactly what they want in exchange for their email address.

Having a website is great, but it can be distracting. A capture page zeros in on what people want and asks for them email in exchange. Simple and to the point. From there, your autoresponder takes over.

Your autoresponder is literally the lifeblood of your online business. Once people connect with you, you can build relationships with them long into the future.

I have found that I have not only made business connections through my autoresponder, but friends from all over the world. It’s a fantastic way to connect internationally with like-minded people.

If you don’t have an autoresponder yet, Aweber has a 30 days free trial.

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