We had read there were only 2 hot springs near Santiago (between Cabo and La Paz) we could reach without 4WD and since we had a small Kia Rio rental, we opted to head to Santa Rita hot springs. The other accessible one is El Chorro.
The previous directions we read made no sense to us so below is an up to date (December 2018) guide on how to get to Santa Rita hot springs.
Using google maps will get you as far as San Jorge by simply typing in San Jorge or even Santa Rita hot springs. I recommend using google maps (download the offline map if you don’t have roaming data) to get you as far as San Jorge, especially for the way back where there is a deceiving fork in the road back to Santiago. Unfortunately the Google maps directions won’t get you from San Jorge to Santa Rita.
If you don’t have Google maps, follow the signs for Santa Rita from Santiago. You will be turning right just before the zoo. If you pass the zoo, you have gone too far and somehow missed the turnoff for Santa Rita and San Jorge. From the turnoff in Santiago, you will drive 7.8 km to San Jorge down a dirt road – a small area (I can’t really use the word town, it is so small) with a church and sports field.
One you arrive in San Jorge, make your immediate right – you will see a large sign for Santa Rita here. This is before the church or sports field, literally the immediate right.
Follow a super sketchy dirt road for 2.1 km (approx. 10 minutes) and you’ll come to a small parking lot. There were several times we were convinced we were going the wrong way. Keep going. Although it is possible in a small car, 4WD (or an ATV) would be preferable.
We paid a man sitting at a table at the entrance to the hot springs. Entry was 100 pesos for 2 of us. I’m not sure if some of that was a fee for parking or that was just entry.
From parking lot, walk down the path to the hot springs for about 5 minutes, past the campsite (yes! Camping here is possible and would be very cool!) and over 2 little wooden bridges. To the left, just after the wooden bridges will be the hot springs pool. A small pool of warm (not super hot) clear water. We were fortunate enough to have the whole pool to ourselves until a group of locals came. We did not see any other tourists the entire 2 hours we spent in this area.
In search of more hot springs, we climbed the rocks up from the hot springs pool. There were no more hot springs, verified by locals, but a beautiful swimming hole fed by a waterfall. This isn’t the easiest climb and proper footwear is essential! Tip: stay to the left of the pool above the hot springs for the easier route to the waterfall. Initially we went right and after some serious maneuvering over huge rocks, we hit a dead end and turned around.
If you can handle the climb, this waterfall pool is a refreshing (cold) place to cool down and do some cliff jumping into the clear, deep, hole. Absolutely amazing! But seriously, be careful. This is all natural so no safety stuff or lifeguards and can be a little sketchy.
Facilities: none. There is a small bathroom at the campsite but otherwise come prepared with snacks and anything you may need for a day at the hot springs.
To get back, reverse these directions back to Santiago, but pay attention to where the road forks from San Jorge to Santiago. Make sure to use Google maps or stay right. On the way back to Santiago you will see a sign to El Chorro hot springs. If you’re feeling like more adventure, head down this road.
Disclaimer: I was conflicted about sharing these tips as this area is essentially untouched and natural. If you go, please respect the enviromment and the people. Do not leave any garbage and avoid obnoxious tourist behaviour (ie. Blasting loud music) – save that for your resort.
When you end up on a small island in Honduras needing to pay the dive shop and the island’s only ATM is down, or when you have $1000 cash stolen from your bag in NYC, you realize the importance of figuring out your finances prior to going travelling.
My main money tips for travelling abroad:
Know if where you’re going is cash or card friendly. Most countries in Europe require little to no cash (even the bathrooms in Copenhagen take credit cards!) but in Central America and parts of Southeast Asia, if a place accepts cards, they tack on an extra fee so cash is best.
Most credit cards charge a foreign conversion fee of 2.5%. Find a credit card that doesn’t charge this, or offers you a higher rate of cash back on foreign currency purchases. The Rogers World Elite mastercard is a no fee card giving you 4% back on foreign purchases.
Carry local currency. There is no point in changing your money twice because you have an idea that US dollars are widely accepted. They are pretty widely accepted at a shitty exchange rate so you might as well bring the correct currency for the country you are visiting.
Carry a small amount of your home currency to avoid having to make an expensive withdrawal on your last day on vacation when you run out of cash. This saves you from converting too much money and losing money converting it back, but allows you exchange small amounts to cover your last day expenses. Most countries have a bank or exchange booth that will allow you to exchange your home currency for local currency without too bad of a rate.
Download the app xe.com to have a quick conversion calculator.
Not all currency exchanges have equal rates. A bit of research ahead of time can save you a lot of money. As a general rule, airport currency exchange booths offer the worst rates (and charge a service fee!)
Know your bank charges in advance and factor this in when making withdrawals. If you are planning to take out $100 every two days and your bank charges you $5 on top of the local bank charging you $5, you’re paying an extra 10% on top of the exchange fee. Balance this with the risk of carrying a large amount of cash on you – in countries where theft is common, that $10 every couple days might be worthwhile insurance. Better yet, get a card that allows for free withdrawals abroad. I use the free Tangerine card allowing me free withdrawals in many countries. If you use the orange key 16663560S1 they’ll give you a free $50 for signing up. Free account, $50 for signing up, and free international withdrawals? Why not!? Once small catch… they have a few countries that are “white listed” meaning you need to have your card unlocked before you travel or it won’t work. When I phoned to inquire, I was told Australia and New Zealand are current white listed countries (2018)
Carry two debit cards and two credit cards from separate banks. Or three. Because when your Tangerine card isn’t working in Australia and you locked yourself out of your RBC account, you’ll be glad to have access to funds.
Keep your money and cards in separate places. If you’re robbed, you’ll be grateful you stashed a back up cards and some cash in your dirty underwear at the bottom of your backpack.
When booking travel, check which credit card offers the best insurance. Most travel rewards cards have incredible travel insurance but require you book your trip with them.
Use those extreme couponing skills when booking travel. I’m very into Ebates right now and then grabbing extra coupon codes for Hotwire, Groupon getaways or collecting Expedia points on top of my cash back. Don’t sign up to these sites without getting the significant sign up bonuses through referral codes. One of my biggest travel fails was signing up for Uber without a referral code and paying for my first ride while the rest of the world gets their first ride free!
For more tips on saving money while booking travel click here. I’ve included links for some kick ass sign up deals like $45 off your first Airbnb stay.
If you spend any period of time in the Philippines you’ll notice the number of strays and the poor condition they’re in. If you’re like me, you’ll be inspired to bring one home. The Philippines does not make it easy to export a dog. Your home country has its own import requirements and I suggest you check with them before falling in love with your new furry family member. Once you’ve confirmed you can import a dog, the work begins. It is not easy but the life you save will be worth it.
These steps are specific to Bantayan but could easily be applied to any place in the Philippines.
1. Confirm with your airline that dogs are accepted or find an airline that does fly pets. You can start with www.pettravel.com to get general ideas but will want to confirm with your airline. At the time of writing Philippine Airlines had an embargo on bracychephalic dogs (short snout nosed dogs, like a pug) but then arbitrarily changed to a full embargo on shipping pets the day before I made my reservation, despite their website not being updated to reflect this change. Singapore airlines also informed me they do not transport dogs. Cathay Pacific informed me that they do ship dogs. This is probably your best bet for an airline out of Cebu.
2. Bring the dog for rabies vaccine and medical certificate from a vet on Bantayan Island (200 php as of April 2018)
There are two veterinarians on Bantayan Island but neither seem to be super engaged in providing care to street dogs but will give you the certificate.
3. Bring vaccine record and quarantine certificate to quarantine officer located at the ferry terminal near where you purchase your tickets to obtain your permit for local travel (called shipping permit). There is no cost for this. There is a 14 day waiting period after the dog has received the rabies vaccine before it can be eligible for this permit.
4. The ferry did not appear to have any specific transportation protocols – I just sat with the dog in my lap. They also did not ask to see the paperwork I had gone to so much trouble to get and did not charge me extra for the dog.
5. When you arrive in Cebu city, if you find a taxi or Uber willing to transport you and your dog, keep their phone number! Many will turn you down when they see your dog. There are several pet friendly hotels in Cebu city – www.booking.com has an option to click pet friendly. They will have an additional charge for pets in most cases.
6. Find a good vet in Cebu that can assist you in preparing for your export and import requirements. Cebu based rescues can likely recommend someone. Below is an email I received from PAL outlining the requirements but I suggest obtaining a list from your specific airline. Keep in mind you cannot get the export permit until 15 days after the rabies vaccine. *ensure you check requirements of any countries your dog may transit through on stopovers* You also want to confirm what kind of care they will receive if they have a stopover. Qatar airways and Cathay Pacific apparently have excellent stopover service for pets. PAL does not (maybe why they no longer transport pets).
The absolute best service I can recommend to assist you with veterinary care and the complicated export process is My Travel Companion Although I started doing the research on the airline requirements myself, they were able to do all the veterinary care, paperwork, everything. If you use this service you won’t have to worry about anything. They also care so much and continue to check in on how Mena is doing. These people have heart!
7. Book a reservation for your dog to fly either with you as excess baggage, or as cargo with an airline. You’ll need the dogs weight and crate measurements when you phone to book this reservation. Be mindful of connection times. My first attempt at booking left my dog with an overnight layover unaccompanied. I was able to switch to a more reasonable flight. Cost for shipping my dog was $800 US but it will vary based on airline, dog size, crate size, etc.
8. Go back to the pettravel.com website to review how to prepare your dog to fly safely and comfortably. Ensure you have a well labelled IATA approved crate. I found the crates to be cheaper at the Gaisano department store rather than the SM mall pet store but your veterinarian likely has a better suggestion of where to get a crate or may sell them. Again, My Travel Companion can do all of this for you. Mena arrived with a well prepared crate and I didn’t have to stress about any of this. Their costs are reasonable and they are the experts in ensuring the crate is prepared for travel.
*pet supplies are incredibly limited on the island but the Chinese store in Santa Fe does sell some leashes and collars and the grocery store does sell kibble* You may want to start leash and crate training ASAP as a beach dog can easily become overwhelmed in the city.
9. Give that dog all the love it deserves once it arrives home.
I have visited China twice on stopovers, the first time to Beijing in 2016 and the second; Shanghai in 2018.
I won’t be going back.
The best advice I can leave you is to avoid China. Perhaps there are nice spots to visit outside of the cities and maybe there are some beautiful parts to the culture but this was not my experience. Also, do you really want to use your tourism dollars to support a country with a dog meat trade? I have never been particularly interested in China but always like to use stopovers as an excuse to visit new spots (The Art of the Stopover) and thought I’d give this country a try… twice.
My first stopover in Beijing was mostly spent getting pushed around a freezing cold city (it was January) in search of vegetarian friendly food or fresh food to eat (I found none) while observing some pretty buildings with heavy police presence on the streets. I rode the metro from the airport with ease to get around, however struggled to find things as I wasn’t aware that google maps wouldn’t work and despite finding free wifi in many places, and was unable to google anything. I ended up leaving China hungry, passing on the grilled cockroaches on the street and American fast food chains, disgusted at the polluted grey sky and the way the men spit everywhere on the street, and slightly traumatized by being pushed everywhere and the heavy police presence and random metal detectors on the street.
The second time I went to China I had talked myself into looking forward to my stopover there. I had googled a few cool things to do including riding the Maglev train (fastest land train in the world), visiting Disneyland Shanghai for a few hours and then going for a drink at the top of the Hyatt downtown to observe the view and then walking around People’s Square.
None of this happened.
My friends and I positioned ourselves well to make the most of our stopover. We had researched directions to all the spots we wanted to go, ensured our bags were checked through to our final destination in the Philippines, and sat at the front of the plane to avoid long lines for the tourist visa. As we departed the plane, we were greeted with almost no wait at the 24 hour tourist visa line at customs.
And we were turned away.
No explanation given. We were told we would have to stay in the airport for the entire duration of our 8 hour stopover. We went to the international transfer gate and inquired and were told by an airline staff that we should try the 24 hour visa line again. We attempted the regular foreigners visa line and were again told no. When we asked why, an angry Chinese police man yelled “no why” and pointed us back to the international transfer line.
Instead we tried the 24 hour temporary visa line again. This time we tucked our boarding passes for our next flight away, completed the blue temporary visa form with the date for the following day departure (the truth, we were leaving after midnight that night) and tried again. No dice. Again, no explanation.
After over an hour of trying to gain entry to Shanghai, we gave up. We went to the international transfer terminal to wait for our flight several hours later. The magic of Disneyland Shanghai and the excitement of riding the train destroyed. The most frustrating part besides not being allowed outdoors after a 12.5 hour flight from Canada was not being provided with an explanation as to why, as I previously had no problem acquiring a temporary visitor visa on a stopover. As we laid around the airport attempting to nap, we used the free wifi to discover this had been happening to several others recently without explanation. If anyone has info as to why people have been recently turned away, please email me at email@example.com.
Tips for China:
– As I mentioned earlier, don’t go.
– But if you do go, you will see information that you are eligible for a free transit visa if you’re stopping in on your way en route to somewhere else. Be prepared that you may be turned away somewhere else and don’t rely on this stopover as part of your travel itinerary.
– Pack warm clothes and blankets if stranded in the Shanghai airport. I live in Canada and don’t think I’ve ever been so cold!
– Forget using social media or any google based apps. On my first trip, whatsapp was allowed, but has since been banned leaving iMessage as my only communication option online. What I didn’t know my first trip, was that I could have used another search engine (Yahoo) to find a vegetarian friendly place to eat. Once I discovered that Google is banned in China and could search with Yahoo, using the internet became easier. If you’re super concerned about getting online, consider using a VPN app to use Google and your social media apps.
– The maps app on iPhones works for getting around
– Be careful what you pack in your carry on. A friend had her battery pack taken away because it didn’t have any factory writing on it. They are quite thorough at security and confiscate many items.
Shanghai airport tips:
– the airport is probably beautiful on a nice sunny day (does that happen in Shanghai?) with huge floor to ceiling windows but for us, it just meant the terminal never really warmed up and we were absolutely freezing.
– There are plenty of little shops and cafes however food and drinks are rather expensive. North American style, vegetarian friendly, and fresh dishes are extremely limited. Shop around. A bottle of water ranged in price from $1 to $7 depending on the store.
– There is free drinking water available at many stations throughout the terminal. Reduce plastic and bring your own reusable water bottle.
– Wifi is free and easy to access.
– The airport was not crowded on a Tuesday afternoon/evening when we went and has many long benches to stretch out on and sleep.
China Eastern airline review.
– I had hoped to book my Philippines trip on star alliance partner couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the cheap deal to Cebu, Philippines offered by China Eastern with a long stopover in Shanghai (I’ll always choose a long stopover over 3-6 hours as I like the chance to explore new cities and stretch my legs and mind on a long stopover rather than staying in the airport)
I was pleasantly surprised with:
– Leg room
– Seat back entertainment from Canada to Shanghai with so many movies, shows and games to keep us entertained.
– Food quality was surprisingly good. Better than most airlines.
– Free wifi. You have to register in advance for a code and the signal wasn’t particularly strong, and the wifi had all the same Chinese restrictions as mainland China but this was a nice perk. (Add link to register online here)
– strict flight attendants not allowing us to move to sit closer to our friends because the seats were “priority seats”
– Lack of alcohol on board. Even when requested, and not even for sale. No dice. Apparently there was one offering of wine on the 12 hour flight I missed while I was sleeping and was not able to access when I asked.
– Passengers with no shame. Whether it was the woman changing a diaper in the middle row (there are change tables in the washroom on board) of her screaming child (who screamed for the better part of 12 hours) or the passenger climbing and standing on the seats, or those who ran and pushed to be first on the plane (yes, they literally ran!) these passengers had no shame. This seemed consistent with my experience in other crowded places in China.
Our flight from China to the Philippines was quite different. No seat back entertainment, no wifi, terrible food, but did offer free wine and more considerate passengers.
If China Eastern didn’t require a stopover in China (they are a Chinese airline after all) I’d likely fly with them again as overall it was a positive experience. But I think I’ll stick to other Star Alliance airline partners through other countries for future travel to Asia.
In March 2018 I went to the Philippines for a vacation… and I returned with a stray dog.
Mena (as we’ve named her) was a stray dog who stole our hearts when she refused to let us leave Bantayan without her, swimming after our boat as we left the island, and then standing on a sandbar crying for us as our boat drove away. We met her on our first day on the island and she stayed by our side until we left, sleeping on the porch of our cabin, and laying at our feet at restaurants, and under our chairs at the beach. She had obviously just had puppies, as she was lactating but the puppies were nowhere to be found. A couple times she whimpered and led us to a spot under a cabin where she dug as if to show us where they might be. But there were no puppies there…
I learned some scary and devastating things about Bantayan while researching Mena’s home island. The dog catcher comes around to get strays (like Mena) and sells them either to the meat market to be turned into meat for human consumption, or places them into cages awaiting euthanasia, often without food, water, or shade. This pound unfortunately does not promote adoption or the welfare of the stray animals it finds. We found a litter of 7 puppies under our cabin on Bantayan – their eyes not even open. What will their fate be? As we travelled around we saw dogs and cats dying on the streets of the Philippines. I’ve been around the world and have never seen worse conditions for dogs and cats as what I witnessed in the Philippines.
I tried to continue on with my trip but couldn’t stop thinking about her and how badly she wanted to leave the island. I couldn’t erase that image from my head of her standing on a sandbar crying and yelping for us as our boat drove away. So I brought her home to Canada. And it wasn’t easy or cheap. But it was the right thing to do. With no viable local adoption option, overcrowded shelters, and the alternatives of death row or the meat market, bringing her home was the only thing I could do.
Everything about this rescue was ridiculous. I attempted to carry on with my vacation, heading south of Cebu city to do some scuba diving. I had been was waiting for the ferry to Bohol for 2.5 hours (Holy Week, earlier ferries were all booked) and when they made the boarding call for my ferry, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get on the ferry and continue on with scuba diving and visiting the beautiful sites of the Philippines. The next thing I knew, I was at the bus terminal for the 7 hour journey back to Bantayan to be reunited with Mena. The line to get a bus was much longer than the number of seats on a bus so I ended up sitting on my bag in the back of a van, grateful I had bought a local SIM card so I could spend the 7 hour journey trying to find a place to stay that night in overbooked Easter weekend in Bantayan. Thankfully Kota Beach Resort (where we had met Mena) had one last room available that night but of course the kind souls at the Habitat Sanctuary had already pitched a tent for me in their sanctuary, welcoming a person they had never met before but connected with over a shared passion for street dogs. I opted to stay at Kota as that is the beach Mena was known to hang out at. Greg and Tina from Habitat Sanctuary had located Mena for me earlier that day so I knew she was still around, and within about 30 seconds of arriving at Kota, Mena came running to me, as if I had never left. From there, I devised a plan to bring her back to Canada. And I couldn’t have done it without some of the incredible people I met along the way.
I met some of the most inspiring and amazing people who run small rescues in Bantayan and Cebu. These rescues don’t receive government funding and operate with minimal volunteers and resources. There are not nearly enough rescues to help dogs like Mena who are healthy, as they’re overrun with sick and injured dogs and cats, stretched far beyond capacity. Despite how busy they all are, they took time to sit with me while I cried on the beach with Mena wondering if I was doing the right thing, and met me in a park in Cebu again crying wondering if taking her from her home island was the right thing when we couldn’t find any grass for her to play on in the city. There are no words for the support they provided me as a random tourist on a mission to bring a dog home, but just one of the many selfless acts they perform every day in the name of love for the stray animals of the Philippines.
The Philippines does not make it easy or cheap to export a dog for adoption and most Filipino people do not care for dogs and cats as pets the way Canadians do. The cost to bring Mena home to Canada was approximately $2000, a lot more than I anticipated before committing to this but this sweet girl gave me no choice. She made it clear she wanted to leave Bantayan.
After spending a few more days with Mena on Bantayan making travel, veterinary care and boarding options before she could join me in Canada, it was time to head down to Cebu City where the amazing people at My Travel Companion prepared Mena for travel to Canada. I went to the local office to get her paperwork to travel off the island and was informed she needed a medical certificate from a veterinarian. I offered to pay a little extra to save the quarantine officer another trip to the ferry terminal on the long weekend. He declined my attempt at bribing my way out of going to the veterinarian so Mena and I found a motorcycle to take us into town and see the local vet who specializes in livestock and clearly has little interest in a street dog. We got the certificate, and then the permit to travel. With a harness too large for her body (somebody stole the one I had brought her from the city) and having never been on a leash before, I was terrified to make the 7 hour journey alone with her. But I did it. After a tricycle (tuk tuk), ferry, and taxi we ended up in Cebu City at the veteriarians office to start the process for getting her healthy, vaccinated, and ready to fly. Back at the hotel room I tried to take Mena for a walk. She was terrified of every little sound and we couldn’t find any grassy areas. I made the decision to drop her off early at the home where she would be cared for until she could travel 15 days later.
Less than 24 hours before I was due to fly home, PAL airlines arbitrarily decided to suspend all transporting of animals, leaving Mena stranded in Cebu city as I did not have time to return her to her home on the island before flying home. PAL is the only airline flying direct from the Philippines to Canada and I did not want to try to connect Mena through another country, especially unaccompanied. Through the power of advocacy by a number of people to PAL airlines, Mena was granted an exemption and came home on April 19. One of the most emotionally trying moments of my life… Thank you to everyone for your support and advocacy – I had friends take time out of their days to flood the airline with emails explaining the importance of bringing this girl home. I was also in process of implementing plans B, C, D, etc. including having her picked up and brought to Bantayan, rehomed in Cebu, or certified as an emotional support dog so she could fly in the cabin of a PAL flight (yes… I was seriously willing to do whatever it takes to get that girl home to Canada)
Thankfully PAL made the exception and she was provided A+ treatment by the staff at PAL. I do hope they reconsider their embargo on shipping live animals so others can be given a chance as Mena has been.
We still have more to do for the other dogs of the Philippines.
I’ve had many people offer to help with the funds which is amazing but there is so much need beyond Mena. There are dogs and cats literally dying on the streets. The strays are rampant and spay & neuter programs just aren’t widespread enough. The knowledge just isn’t there as the problem continues to grow exponentially. Mena came home to Canada on April 19, 2018 after a crazy amount of bureaucracy and an emotional rollercoaster, but so many others are left in the Philippines without a chance.
I want to help and I know many of you do as well. Now that I am home, I’d like to do more as the needs are immense and would love your help in setting this up.
A few of the needs are:
1. Ongoing donations for vet bills, animal care and the running of rescue facilities.
2. Volunteers to assist with animal care, maintenance/construction, cleaning, etc. and to give the hard working people who run these rescues 24/7 a break.
3. Assistance providing awareness about spay/neuter clinics and humane treatment of animals, including advocacy with the Philippines government.
4. Website development and internet awareness.
5. Assistance in developing avenues for adoptions to suitable homes. For info on how to adopt a dog from Bantayan Click here
6. Advocacy with Philippine Airlines (PAL) to lift their embargo on shipping live animals, and requesting they develop a low cost option to ship rescue dogs to loving homes in Canada or other countries. PAL is the only airline with direct flights to Canada leaving it as the only real option for dogs wanting to escape the Philippines (other airlines require a stopover, and possible quarantine in other Asian countries). This embargo prevents the international adoption of all the dogs needing homes. I will be submitting a proposal to them in the coming weeks at which point will ask for your support in advocating for this.
Please do not feel obliged to donate any funds or help as there are more than enough important causes at home. That being said, the homeless dogs in Canada are treated far better than the ones in the Philippines which is why I need to do something and have spent my vacation doing this.
There are other ways to help, especially if you are travelling to the Philippines or looking to adopt your own rescue dog (or cat). Please email me if you can volunteer or want to adopt.
If you can help with any of the above, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to send a donation, Canadians can e-transfer to: email@example.com (preferable to avoid the fees of PayPal) and international can use this PayPal link:
If you’re worried about amount, keep in mind most costs are lower here than in Canada. A set of shots and medical check up at the vet is less than $20 CA. Your donation does not have to be large to make a difference.
And remember, adopt, don’t shop. There is absolutely no need to buy puppy mill dogs or backyard breeder mutts when dogs like Mena are dying every day here and at home in Canada.
To purchase dog mom products with proceeds going towards bringing Mena home Click here
Here are a couple of the rescues who helped me figure things out for Mena. I suggest following them on FB to learn more or donating to them directly.
Mena update: Approximately 3 weeks after coming home to Canada, Mena became very sick. I came home from work to find that she had been sick all over my bedroom, and in an attempt to get out (she had previously never had a single accident in the house) she had ripped open my walls and scratched up my doors. 4 veterinarians, several expensive emergency clinic bills, 2 rounds of antibiotics, and a surgery later, we found out that Mena had a mastitis in one of her breasts, as well as TVT, a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cancer in dogs. Unfortunately she became ill on a Friday night, meaning she wasn’t able to see my fantastic veterinarian at North Road Animal Hospital. She was given some misdiagnoses and had been recommended for emergency surgery despite fighting an active infection, thankfully I trusted my gut and waited to see my normal veterinarian who assured me we would do the surgery after her mastitis was healed.
All this medical stuff has raised the ethical dilemma of bringing a stray dog back from a foreign country to Canada. Have I unknowingly exposed my other dog to a highly contagious form of cancer? Could the thousands of dollars spent on vet care for Mena been spent on helping other stray dogs at home or in the Philippines? I am constantly wondering if I did the right thing but then I look at Mena and how much she loves life in Canada, and can’t imagine leaving her on Bantayan where she surely would not have survived. There is something very special about this dog and how she chose me…
The prognosis for her cancer was positive. The remaining tumours started to regress after the surgery however at the one month mark post surgery my veterinarian had bad news for me… they hadn’t regressed enough and we would have to start chemotherapy. Although the mastitis had cleared and she is back to her energetic, playful, self, ripping around the dog park chasing other dogs, she still had tumours inside her. I was referred by my vet to the only dog oncologist in the lower mainland – the Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital. I had no idea what to expect. The large word “Oncology” on the window had me terrified but this clinic was amongst the best I have ever been to (and we have been through a lot of veterinarians throughout this debacle!) If you want to meet some of the most devoted and amazing dog parents, spend some time in the waiting room of a veterinary oncologist clinic. Each dog we met had their own story and their own loving, devoted pet parent(s). After 4 rounds of chemotherapy, I took Mena back for a checkup to see if the tumours were gone. Bad news… they weren’t. We did another round of chemotherapy and waited a month. On October 3, 2018, nearly 6 months after meeting Mena on a beach in the Philippines, I got the news that she was cancer free. They threw a little party for Mena and gave her a certificate of graduation from treatment.
Now hopefully, we can move on with the freedom of being cancer free, and continue enjoying the life Mena came to Canada for. Although she is still learning to play with toys, likes to run wild and free despite my attempts at keeping her leashed, and is constantly fights with my older 12 year old rescue dog Pierre for the spot of alpha dog, when she is laying in bed on her back waiting for pets, or gently greeting patients waiting to see the psychiatrist or staff at my work, I know she is truly living her best life here in Canada.
Mena has changed me. She is a daily reminder to me of all the other dogs in the Philippines I wasn’t able to save. The ones who die every day on the streets not knowing what it is to be loved. I remain in touch with the incredible humans who run the rescue organizations devoted to these animals. I’d love to say I’d go back and visit again but I’m not sure my heart could handle it. This little blog is my attempt at raising some awareness of the dark side of this country, known for its beautiful beaches.
To watch the video of Mena’s first day home in Canada click here
For updated info on her journey and how to help other dogs in the Philippines Click here
When in Bantayan, we fell in love with a beautiful stray dog we named Mena. There were tons of strays on this island but Mena has just given birth but her puppies were nowhere in sight. She instantly attached to us and stayed with us for the time we were on Bantayan. Leaving her was heart breaking – she tried to swim after our boat and then stood on the sandbar crying for us.
You know you’ve got the travel bug when every time you open a pay stub you look at your vacation time accruals rather than your pay cheque amount. There isn’t a clear way to describe how I feel about travel, but others who suffer from wanderlust or fernweh conditions understand. You measure your bills in flight tickets (that property tax bill could have bought me a flight to Europe, or that car repair could have got me to Hawaii), you check seat sale alerts in the morning before checking any other social media or email, and you have anxiety for that two week waiting period during your passport renewal, worried that you might “need” to jump on a flight somewhere while passport-less wondering if you should have paid for the express renewal despite not actually having anything booked. This is me.
So how do I travel so often?
This is probably the most common question I get asked. I’m a regular person with a full time job, a mortgage, a dog, a hockey and softball team, and a yoga membership. I’ve got roots and am grounded in loving my life at home.
But I love to travel.
It is my passion and so I find ways to make it work. A few things that work for me are:
– I work 3 jobs. In addition to my full time job, I hold a causal job allowing me to pick up shifts with no notice (typically when the weather isn’t so conducive to my weekend outdoor plans) and another teaching at a local college when I can commit to staying in town for the majority of a semester (usually about once a year provided another instructor will cover for me for the inevitable need to travel mid semester).
– I’m cheap. Frugal. Whatever you want to call it. I fully embrace my post World War 2 immigrant Dutch roots. I don’t waste money by eating out, driving a nice car, or excessively shopping for shit I don’t need. Everyone has their spending priorities, mine is travel. Proof is in my ancient tv (which never gets turned on anyway!) I wouldn’t even know how to use a smart tv if I was gifted one – because I’d never buy one (that’s a ticket to Europe!)
– I collect Aeroplan points, follow posts that notify me of seatsales, and put into practice all the tips I’ve shared on this site to make travel more affordable.
– I keep a solid crew of friends who share the love of travel and are willing to roll the seat sale dice and end up in Cuba or the Philippines, or book a quick getaway to Mexico with less than two weeks’ notice, but I am also not afraid to travel alone and enjoy solo travel.
– Unfortunately I have a dog who hates being kennelled, and it would be unfair to lock him up so often, so I rent out the spare room in my condo (more travel money!) at a cheap rate in exchange for dog sitting. The dog gets to stay at home, and I have a built in house sitter.
– I maximize my time off. I travel over stat holidays to save vacation days and never have more than 24 hours between my flight times and work schedule. I often go straight from work to the airport. I usually have my work bag packed and ready to go and work clothes laid out when I get home since I often only have a few short hours to sleep before heading to work. I’ve also been known to take a red eye or early morning flight back and head straight to work. Those people who “need” a day or two to unpack, grocery shop, and rest after a vacation are people who either have way too much vacation time, or would rather spend a day with their washing machine than on a tropical beach.
– I have a rule that I don’t return from one trip without another one booked. This prevents any post travel blues and always leaves me with something to look forward to and plan for.
I continually hear people say they’d love to travel but can’t because (insert excuse here). It’s bullshit. If you’d love to travel, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Follow my blog for some tips to make it a little more affordable, stop making excuses, and start getting that passport stamped!
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” – Paulo Coelho
I’m at an age where I’ve had enough drama on vacations that I now closely screen travel companions… or travel solo.
After seeing a friend lose her shit and throw a bike at the bike rental shop guy, or having a friend tell you to Fuck off after clearly reiterating your no camping in Europe rule, or having a friend of a friend steal your boyfriends iPhone off the counter of the condo in Hawaii she was staying in for free, I’ve learned that more is not merrier and to be incredibly discerning with my most precious asset, my vacation time.
Group travel is fun when you’re contained in a space where you are all responsible for your own activities and entertainment such as all inclusive resorts and cruises. These environments are ideal for large groups where everyone can do their own thing and have their own space but connect over pool time and shuffle board. If you’re going to travel around, negotiating routes, sharing a car rental, or having to decide on where you want to eat, proceed with caution.
I’ve travelled solo, in pairs, and in groups.
Travelling solo is fun, freeing, and empowering. The downsides include:
– eating dinner alone. I’m typically happy to do activities throughout the day on my own but enjoy reflecting on the day with a friend over dinner or drinks. Who am I kidding though… I rarely end up eating alone when I travel as I usually meet other solo travellers happy to show me the best local food and drinks in town.
– Not being able to do certain side trips independently. I hate group tours and excursions but when travelling solo, I’ve had to sometimes sign up for that group tour to avoid wandering lost in the jungle alone.
– Not having a photographer but not wanting to buy a selfie stick. Typically people are around and happy to take a photo for you but there are occasional times a travel companion is a useful photographer
– Solo travel is more expensive. Whether it’s splitting that bottle of rum, or sharing major expenses like hotels and car rentals, solo travel can double your cost. But sometimes the freedom is worth it.
– Safety. This is rare as I tend to stick to the tourist track but there’s been once or twice where I didn’t feel entirely comfortable as a solo female traveller. If this happens, make friends with the least scary looking person. After a short conversation, your fears will usually subside. Or you’ll stay hidden in your hotel room until morning as I did in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The freedoms of solo travel often outweigh the downsides. Having two friends get in a passive aggressive fight over the fan in the room in Colombia is a great reminder of how when travelling solo you choose the room temperature in addition to your routes, accommodations, transportation, activities and meals. Everyone should take a solo trip at least once in their lifetime. And I don’t mean joining a group tour like G adventures alone, I mean true solo travel where you plan your own itinerary and are responsible for your own activities every day. Do it.
Travelling with friends can make amazing memories even better. Dancing with an 80 year old man at the local pub isn’t nearly as funny as when you have friends there to laugh with. And those avocados the size of melons on the big island of Hawaii were meant to be shared.
If you are going to go on a group trip, choose your travel companions wisely. Have those conversations before you leave about budget, food, and activities, before you end up renting a surfboard in Hawaii and are out catching waves while a travel companion is throwing a hissy fit on the beach because she wants to go for lunch and you only have one rental car. Let people know your expectations and things you want from the trip so you don’t compromise what is important to you. I’m a diver and often travel with non divers so am up front that I’ll be going on some dives while they do whatever they want during that time. Group travel doesn’t mean you spend all your time together, and clearing that up ahead of time can save you the passive aggressive comments about something someone wanted to do but didn’t clarify with the group ahead of time. Group travel also means compromising and making concessions. Be clear about things that are important to you (ie. that I don’t camp in Europe) and don’t get manipulated into breaking your boundaries or you’ll end up frozen and soaking wet in a field in the middle of nowhere, England. Do make compromises on things that are less important such as eating at a restaurant that serves something other than empanadas or checking out that bar you really aren’t interested in (but then turns out to be amazing and you’re so glad you went!)
I typically take the lead in planning as well as driving (because people still don’t have free car rental insurance with their travel credit cards) but some of the best trips I’ve been on have been when I’ve taken a backseat and let someone else do the planning. Not a literal backseat because as mentioned, I’m always stuck driving, but am happy to take direction from my key navigator to find some cool spots I might not have decided to check out if I had done the planning alone.
If you’re going to embark on a group trip, follow these key points:
– Consider an all inclusive or cruise if your group is anymore than 2.
– Be careful about including friends of friends you have never met. The worst travel experience was with a friend of a friend who assured me she was cool (she was a yoga instructor after all!) but turned out to be bat shit crazy.
– Know each others’ strengths. One of you may have free car rental insurance and another has Uber discount codes. Someone might be better at finding cheap flights while another has organized and printed an entire list of every vegan restaurant in Portland organized by opening hours to ensure you eat well.
– Take responsibility for your role in travel mishaps. Like when you’re stranded on the side of the highway in Colombia for an hour and a half at dusk with no food because you had a fun idea of how to get to Totuma mud volcano.
– Have the conversation beforehand about not spending every minute together. Otherwise you could lose out on that $100 Breaking Bad slot machine payout to watch your friend put her makeup on in the hotel room in Vegas or having friends think you’re pissed off simply because you went to go for a walk alone in the sun.
– Set boundaries and stick to them. If you really don’t want to sleep in a tent in a field in Europe, don’t do it. Compromising what is important to you will raise resentment. If someone is trying to manipulate your clear boundaries, they probably aren’t someone you want to travel with anyway.
– Be flexible. Don’t compromise on your boundaries but with things that don’t really matter, be flexible. This is their trip too.
It is rare to hear hostels referred to as youth hostels anymore as they’ve evolved and most tend to cater to a wide age range of budget travellers. There are days I think I am too old to stay in a hostel and then I find one filled with community, good food, and good people and am reminded that they’re more than just a cheap place to crash.
Most hostels focus on bringing travellers together and have a variety of activities, events or amenities to accomplish this. They can have everything from karaoke to food tours to community meals. For the solo traveller, hostels are a fantastic way to meet other people and to get suggestions and tips on the area you’re travelling in, and in some cases to make lifelong friends from around the world. They’re typically in some of the best locations, central to many tourist activities where some of the most expensive hotels are located. For the person travelling for a longer period of time, hostels also typically include kitchen facilities which allow you to cook and store your own food, and their bars often offer amazing drink specials saving you even more money.
– Do not book the cheapest hostel you see available. Read the reviews before deciding on a place to place to stay!
– I do not suggest anything larger than a 6 bed dorm, but preferably 4. Pay the extra money for the quiet and cleanliness. Trust me on this. I’d say 12 bed dorms should be reserved for prisons, but I think even prisoners deserve more quiet and privacy than these overcrowded dorms allow.
– Consider a private room in the hostel if your budget permits. You can take advantage of the facilities while maintaining your privacy, quiet, and cleanliness.
– If travelling with friends, a hostel may not be your cheapest option. In Amsterdam I was able to get a beautiful 4 star central hotel on Hotwire for less than the cost of 2 dorm beds. Barcelona had similar results. Don’t assume hostels are always cheap, especially in Europe.
– Make sure to inquire on things that are important to you before booking (hot showers, drinking water, wifi, clean washrooms absence of bed bugs are a few that I prefer)
– If any review reports bed bugs, no matter how outdated, avoid that hostel! The management may respond to the review stating the bed bugs have been eradicated but when you wake up covered in bites with a full bed bug waddling across your chest as occurred in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, you’ll wish you’d have trusted the reviews.
– Participate in the activities, beyond the drinking at the bar (but that is fun too). We had a lot more fun in the free salsa class than the trio of girls watching us with judgmental faces sitting st the bar in Holbox, Mexico.
– Many hostels offer free accommodation in exchange for volunteering around the hostel. There is nothing that could have me clean hostel bathrooms on my holiday, but especially not for a $15/night dorm bed. Do the math on the value of this arrangement before signing up. As mentioned, hostels are great for community, but you may be better off meeting friends at the bar than cleaning their post bar vomit off the hostel toilet seats.
– And on that note… hostel bathrooms are the one main reason I don’t exclusively stay in hostels. I’m all for community, great locations, and saving money but shared bathrooms can get pretty disgusting, pretty fast which is why following my earlier tips (read reviews, as few beds as possible) will minimize the likelihood of contracting a new strain of Hepatitis or whatever else these places grow.
– Some hostels offer an ensuite option. Sharing a washroom with the 3 people in your dorm is a lot nicer than every person in the hallway. Take this option if it is available.
– Sex in the hostel dorm is a no no. This is why most offer a private room option.
– If you need to get up early, you get one chance with the alarm, no snoozing. Setting an alarm for 4:30 am and snoozing until 6 am is absolutely inappropriate
– If you are waking up early, have everything laid out and ready to go for a quiet and quick exit from the room. Do not turn on the lights while others are sleeping.
– Likewise if you are planning to come back from a late night. Have everything ready to go to bed and do not turn on the lights while others are sleeping.
– Clean up after yourself and be kind to the volunteers and staff who run the hostel. They do not get paid enough to be treated like service staff.
– Don’t steal food from others’ in the kitchen. Unless your phone gets wet and you need some rice for a quick dry out or if it is left in the free bin.
I’m not sure where to start with sharing my tips on booking accommodations as there are so many things I do depending on where I am staying, and what my budget is but below are a few general tips.
– Always read reviews if you have time!
– Cheapest is not always best value.
– Most of these sites offer a % cash back if you book through Ebates.
– Beware of hidden fees for resort fees, extra people, etc. Often the cheapest accommodation listed actually isn’t cheapest when you go to the final booking step with fees. Another hotel that was initially more expensive is often actually less!
– I usually book double occupancy with large hotel chains despite sometimes having 3 or 4 (or 5) people in my room and have never been questioned about this. I don’t bring the whole group to check in, usually just text them the room number to join me after check in. Don’t do this with small boutique hotels or B&Bs, only places that give you a minimum 2 queen bed set up and have hundreds of rooms.
– Do a quick google search for coupon codes, especially for Hotwire & Priceline.
– Don’t forget your corporate rate, AMA, CAA, Aeroplan etc. discounts if you’re booking directly with a hotel.
– Never trust a booking site when they say an accommodation is sold out for destinations off the beaten path. These sites are usually fairly accurate for large chain hotels in North America but my experience overseas has been different. If you want to stay somewhere, email them directly and usually they’ll have room for you.
Hotwire & Priceline are my favourite sites for scoring an amazing hotel deal when I’m pretty flexible. I’ll often look on Hotwire for an idea of a price for their hidden rate hotels and then lowball it on Priceline’s name your price. I’ve never been disappointed and it’s kind of fun! The downside to these sites is booking is final so you need to be 100% sure you’re not going to cancel. Lately Hotwire has been showing the name of the hotel before booking but if you really want to know, you can check betterbidding.com for a list of hotels listed on Hotwire & Priceline.
If I am a bit more particular about location or or am going somewhere a little more remote, booking.com is my go-to site for searching. They have all types of accommodations including hotels, hostels, B&B’s, and even campsites in some places! They appear to be the most comprehensive booking site. They also allow you to search by minimum review score by users which is a feature I use religiously. It doesn’t matter how good of a deal a place is, I try to always take time to check at least a few reviews and if there’s any mention of bed bugs or unclean bathrooms, I won’t stay there. Once I find a good spot on booking.com I’ll often go to the website to book directly with the hotel to save a few dollars with whatever promo code or corporate rate I have for that hotel chain, or book through Expedia. If I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to do thorough research, booking.com is the easiest and quickest way to book a hotel. A couple things to beware of with booking.com (or any booking site) are:
– Read the fine print to find out additional fees, taxes, etc.
– Check reception/check in hours. Some places do not offer 24 hour or late check in.
– Beware of booking on booking.com and then the hotel asking you to pay on PayPal or through wire transfer at an increased cost. There isn’t much you can do about it other than report them to booking.com but it does happen.
– Because booking.com offers such a wide variety of accommodation options, it is possible that some are scams. A friend sshowed up at her place in Spain to find out it didn’t exist. Booking.com took care of her but it still cost her hours of time to sort it out.
Expedia has less options than booking.com for broad searches but remains a favourite site to book on if prices are the same as booking direct with the hotel. I also love the flight + hotel option. If you need to book both a flight and hotel, always start with Expedia flight + hotel search. On a trip to Vegas a few years ago I ended up with my flight AND 2 nights on Fremont street for less than the cost of the same flight alone! This feature allows you to create your own packages. I’ve also used this feature when invited to a wedding in the Mayan Riviera. I didn’t want to spend a week at an all inclusive, nor did I want to fly a cheap charter airline with the rest of the wedding party, so I was able to use Expedia to book a flight on Air Canada and 3 nights at the all inclusive where the wedding was, while still getting the savings of a package deal. After I added another few nights at another hotel, I ended up paying less than the all inclusive package wedding party “discount” rate from the charter airline. You can click “I only need a hotel for part of my trip” if like me, you only want to spend a few nights locked in an all inclusive zoo before spending the rest of your time exploring. Hotwire also offers this option to create your own packages. One word of warning is that they do not include ground transportation like other vacation packages so you will need to find your way to the hotel on your own.
Hostels & “Other” Accommodations:
Another way to find the best accommodations is to check Tripadvisor. They have 3 categories: hotels, B&Bs and speciality lodging. For cheapest options, check speciality lodging. This is where you’ll find hostels but also cool spots like eco lodges, glamping, yoga retreats and other cool spots! Don’t necessarily go by the top rated one, some newer places haven’t crept their way to the top yet due to lack of reviews. I usually look at their overall score and read a few reviews to get a sense of the place. Tripadvisor isn’t actually for booking, but is meant to guide you to the best spots to stay. Once I decide where I want to stay, I book direct with the accommodation, or through websites such as hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com.
For more information on my thoughts of hostelling for adults, click here.
If you’re travelling somewhere a little off the beaten path, you can use Tripadvisor, booking.com or Expedia to get a sense of prices and vacancy but then walk up to the place to negotiate a better price after viewing it in person. This only works when vacancy rates are high, you speak a bit of the local language, and you don’t mind carrying your bags around to a few spots. If you’re travelling during peak season you probably want to secure somewhere to stay before you arrive, at least for the first night.
I love Airbnb. It is such a fantastic concept, especially if travelling with a larger group or to a place with crazy high hotel prices like Europe or Manhattan. Their app is terrible. Absolutely terrible, and not user friendly making it difficult (but not impossible) to book on the go. If you have a desktop computer, checking out Airbnb is a great option. They have all types of accommodations in all types of price ranges. You can share someone’s home with them, share a room with strangers hostel style, or you can end up with an entire private house to yourself! I’ve stayed in Airbnb’s at least 10 times and have never had a bad experience.
They have generous promo codes to get money off your first stay. Click here for a promo code for your first stay.
Tip: double check the map of the location of your Airbnb before you book it. The search function sometimes sends you quite far away even after you specify where you want to stay.
This is brand new to me but on a recent trip to Banff, Alberta (Jan 2018) I wasn’t loving the options on my regular search sites so had a peek on Groupon Getaways. I found an incredible condo for a better price than anything on Hotwire – and it had breakfast included. I’ll probably start checking this more often although it seems limited to the bigger tourist areas.
I’ve tried all these and have found limited options and prices comparable with the above. I usually don’t bother checking but if you’ve had a good experience with one of these, shoot me an email as I’m happy to be proven wrong here.
Now if you really want to save money, check out Couchsurfing. Be prepared though, Couchsurfing is about more than just a free place to stay in someone’s home but is about building community, meeting friends, and sharing culture. If you want more private/indepedent lodging, try the above options.
Vegas deserves its own little section here. My biggest tip is to beware of crazy high resort fees (can be up to $40/night) before booking anything! Also, some “north strip” hotels can barely be considered on the strip. Anything north of the Wynn/Encore isn’t really walking distance to most strip attractions.
Hotwire/Priceline are still going to get you a kick ass deal but if you want to do a bit of work, you can score an even better deal by signing up to the loyalty clubs for different hotel groups. This has resulted in even better prices than Hotwire or Priceline when I’ve taken the time to do this and had a specific strip hotel in mind. They may also throw in some extras like meals or show tickets.
To really save money, consider staying downtown or off the strip. You’ll end up with cheaper accommodations and cheaper food options nearby. Your transportation costs will be increased if your primary objective is to hang out on the strip gambling, clubbing or hitting shows. If your Vegas goals involve the strip, you probably want to stay on the strip. If the off strip hotels offer a free shuttle to the strip you have to ask yourself if you really want to sit around waiting for a shuttle bus that only runs certain hours beside a family of screaming children, or are you more likely to jump in an Uber to rent a car? If so, you might want to just stay on the strip.
One of my favourite value accommodation spots in Vegas is Desert Rose Resort because they are located just behind Tropicana near the strip, do not charge a resort fee, have large spacious condos ideal for groups, and have little extras like free breakfast and happy hour drinks. The only downside is the pool is small and shady, but you can usually use the nicer Hooters pool (and 24 hour hot tub!) next door. Check their website directly for the best deals.
Lastly, you can usually get an upgraded room if you ask while passing over a $20 or $50 bill at check in. They may also throw in some extras like a bottle of champagne we got with our upgraded room at TI a few years ago.
Cuba also deserves its own little section on here. A quick look on any booking site and it will seem as though Cuba doesn’t have many small hotels, hostels or B&Bs listed, just the big all inclusive resorts. This will probably change over time with the Americans visiting Cuba but as of April 2017 when I was last there, most accommodations were in the homes of people, and were found on AirBnB, through word of mouth, or by looking for the white and blue sign out front of a home (it looks like an anchor). It seems strange to just walk up to a door to a house and ask if you can stay there but if they have a blue anchor out front, they’re expecting you! The occasional hostel has its own website you can find through an internet search but my accommodation booking tips don’t typically apply to this country and your best bet is to knock on some doors upon arrival or use AirBnB.
A wanderlust site for Canadian travellers with a focus on budget travel