How to Pack For a Press Trip in The Caribbean

 

Since October 2017, I’ve gone on five separate press trips to the Caribbean (Mexico 3x, Jamaica and The Bahamas) and I’d like to think that I’ve got packing for tropical, work-related travel down to a fine science. Well, maybe not a science…but I have learned a few things along the way. Lately, I’ve had a lot of questions about my recent travels. So, before I head out on another trip, I thought I’d share a few of my packing tips for press or FAM trips in the tropics.

[Note: at some point I’ll write a comprehensive post about the ins and outs of press trips, but for now, this is a post about packing and preparation]

Bring a bathing suit, sundress, sunscreen and sandals in your carry-on.

Depending on where you’re flying from (in my case the west coast), if you’re on a red eye flight that arrives in the morning, you’ll probably get to your hotel or resort well before check in time. This means you’ll have a few hours to kill before your room is ready. I usually eat (I’m always starving) and then head to the pool/beach, however sometimes you have to hit the ground running. Literally. On my last trip I arrived from the airport and immediately had to do a 2-hour long (OUTDOOR) site tour of the property after flying all night. To save the hassle of rummaging through your suitcase in the hotel lobby bathroom (which, I’ve also done) I’ve just started packing my a bathing suit, sundress, sunscreen and sandals in my carry-on, along with anything else that I need to freshen up (face wipes, moisturizer, deodorant etc).

Checked baggage versus carry-on.

This is totally personal and I may change my stance on this, but I’m one of the rare people who prefers to check their baggage — especially for slightly longer trips. I like being hands free in the airport, plus in my experience, you tend to accumulate a lot of swag & souvenirs on press trips that you may want to take home (i.e. bottles of champagne, full size sunscreens, toiletries etc). Once again, this is totally a personal choice.

It’s not a fashion show.

In my experience, most of the journalists you meet on these trips are from large urban hubs like NY, LA, Miami, Atlanta, Toronto etc. I was worried that coming from the west coast of Canada (where we’re on “island time“) I’d look and feel like a country bumpkin in comparison to my peers. Not the case at all. Unless you’re going on fashion themed trips (like the kind described in Cat Marnell’s book How to Murder Your Life), most of the people you meet are going to be other (often underpaid) lifestyle and travel journalists like yourself.

Pack stuff that you feel good in and don’t bring anything too precious, as drinks get spilled and well, shit happens. With the exception of an Alice + Olivia dress, most of my tropical clothes are from the clearance rack of H&M, Forever21 or one of my favorite designer consignment stores in Vancouver (an excellent option for finding unique pieces for a great price — especially off season).

Now onto packing…

1. Sundresses that can easily be dressed up or down.

The key here is versatility. You want to pack things that can be worn with flat sandals to lunch/breakfast but can also work at night with a pair of heels (if that’s your jam). On my trip to Mexico and the Bahamas this summer, I brought two leaf-print dresses similar to the one above and wore them constantly. Tip: if you can wash a dress in the sink & it dries easily — even better.

2. Lightweight LBD.

Every press event is different, but in my experience there’s usually one night that requires you to be a little bit more dressy. A simple black slip dress like the one above has been a wardrobe godsend. Breezy and comfortable, you’ll look polished without being overdressed for the tropics.

3. Nude heels.

When it comes to heels, I try to only pack one pair. Maybe two. A great pair of nude heels is an easy solution here, as they go with everything. I actually own the exact pair of Dolce Vita slides featured above and I love them. They’re comfy and go with almost anything. If you’re looking to buy shoes online you’ll just want to make sure they’re comfortable enough to withstand a lot of walking. Caribbean resorts are deceptively large and you’ll likely clock some serious distances just going back and forth from events to your room.

4. Metallic or neutral colored flat sandals that you can walk in.

It all comes down to versatility and comfort here. While you’re able to find a ton of
women’s shoes online, you’ll want to make sure that your shoes don’t chafe and/or give you blisters.

5. Large clutch.

If the resort you’re visiting is all inclusive you’re probably not going to need to carry around your wallet all day, everyday. Instead, I like to use a large envelope clutch to hold my room key, phone & sunscreen. You can toss it into a beach tote for the day and/or pull it out for evening activities.

6. Fun jewelry.

Just because you’re there for business doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun with your accessories. While I’m loyal to my go-to large gold hoops, I use trips to the Caribbean as an opportunity to experiment with bold & bright jewelry that I might not wear at home. Same goes for clothing!

7. Bikinis.

While I love a good one-piece, when you’re drinking a lot throughout the day — even if it’s just water — bikinis are just easier to get in and out of. Bring at least two so that you always have something to wear when the other one is drying.

8. A cover up that you’re not embarrassed to wear in public.

I didn’t realize this about resorts, but people wear coverups in public areas — not just by the pool or beach. While I generally don’t put much thought into what I wear to the pool when I’m at home, I’m glad I invested in one or two coverups that I can wear without feeling raggedy.

9. Good quality flip flops.

Instead of buying overpriced flip flops when you get there (that will probably need to be thrown out sooner, rather than later), minimize your waste by investing in a pair of decent quality flip flops. I’m partial to my Havaianas (that are now 10 years old!) because they seem close to indestructible.

10. Sunscreen.

Pack more sunscreen than you think you’ll need. I almost always run out and hotel gift shops love to charge extra for it.

11. All purpose tote.

I have a large Longchamp tote that I use as my travel bag but also does double duty as a beach tote that I can take on day trips.

Now onto the really fun stuff…

12. Earplugs and anything else you’ll need for a comfortable sleep.

You can never really predict how noisy a resort will be at night or where your room will be situated in relation to said noise. For example, I never would have guessed that at Temptation the party at the outdoor club rages until 3 or 4am, nor could I have anticipated how noisy the birds & bugs were in Jamaica. Moral of this story: ear plugs are your friend. I’ve also started using them for sleeping on planes.

13. All the hand sanitizer.

On my second press trip to Jamaica, I got strep throat. It was awful. This goes without saying, but use hand sanitizer always and liberally.

14. Bikini zone gel.

There’s nothing worse than being en route to your destination and realizing that the bikini wax you just got has turned into a hot mess of bumps and irritation. This cooling, healing gel has saved my life on numerous occasions.

15. Probiotics.

I have a sensitive digestive system, but I find taking probiotics everyday — especially when I’m traveling — really helps.

16. Diarrhea medicine.

As luck would have it, the one time I neglected to pack Immodium was the time I absolutely needed it (and was forced to spend $25 USD at the hotel gift shop to get some). Now I like to keep a package in my suitcase at all time.

17. Pepto Bismal.

Between tons of food and drink, and just being away from my usual food/environment, I’ve yet to go on a trip where I haven’t had to use something for my stomach at least once. To avoid the risk of spilling, I prefer to pack the chewable tablets.

18. Bug bite relief.

If you forget to pack bug spray (in my experience I’ve only needed it 50% of the time), it helps to have some topical bug bite relief and Benadryl on hand.

19. A hat that you’re not particularly attached to.

On recent trips, I’ve had sun hats fall in the pool, get rained on and even fly off a boat into the ocean. You’re going to need a hat, but maybe consider packing one that you’re not super attached to.

20. Lip balm with SPF.

Pack some so you don’t spend the entire trip complaining that your lips hurt real bad. 

To save time, I’ve taken items 13-21 (along with a bottle of bug spray) and put it in a zipper pouch, so I can just grab my “tropical survival kit” whenever I’m preparing for a trip.

What are some of your traveling essentials?

20 Things You Should Know Before You Go To Hedonism II in Jamaica

 

In January, I spent four days at the notorious clothing-optional sex resort, Hedonism ii in Negril, Jamaica. Having recently visited topless optional resort, Temptation Cancun this past October, I thought I was prepared for my time at a swingers resort in Jamaica. I mean, how different could the two resorts be? Naked bodies? Check. Lots of sun & booze? Check. But really, nothing could have fully prepared me for Hedonism Jamaica.

I wrote about my experiences at the nudist sex resort recently in the Toronto Sun, but I thought it would be helpful to provide a few tips on what it’s like to go this clothing-optional resort.

1. You don’t have to be naked all the time.

You can wear clothes if you want! The resort is clothing optional and is divided into two separate areas — the “nude side” (where no clothes are allowed) and the “prude side” (where clothing is optional). You’re required to wear clothing in the public dining areas, however what counts as clothing at Hedo (as the regulars call it) is vague at best. It’s not uncommon to see people in see-through garments, fetish costumes or lingerie, just casually grabbing something from the dinner buffet. The longer you’re at the resort (and the more rum punch you consume), the less of a big deal this becomes.

2. But you will see a lot of naked people.

Even if you stick to the clothing-optional “prude” areas, you will still see a lot of naked bodies of literally every imaginable age, shape, size and gender. You will see nude dudes. You will see nude girls. JUST. SO. MANY. NAKED. BODIES. As I texted my friend on my first day at Hedonism ii, “it’s only 11am and I’ve already seen way more foreskin than is humanly necessary.” A few days in, you’ll get so used to the nudity that you’ll almost stop noticing it. Almost.

3. It’s swinger friendly.

It’s not officially a swingers resort. It’s also not officially a nudist resort. However, it’s definitely nudist and swinger and/or lifestyle friendly. I visited the adult’s only resort on a press trip in January during “Lifestyle Takeover Month,” so it was mostly couples (350 swingers + 5 female journalists. What could possibly wrong?) and the crowd was mostly aged 40+. Similar to my other adult only resort experience, in general the guests were older. I met lots of people in their 50’s, 60’s and older — and yes, they were naked. In general though, if you’re looking to play with another couple or individual(s), you’ll probably find some like-minded folks there.

4. You will see people having sex in public.

My first full day at the resort I walked out of my room, looked up and noticed my neighbors having sex on their balcony. They were eerily silent and all that could be heard from below was the sound of flesh slapping flesh. Lack of sound aside, public sex is the norm here and don’t have to go far to see it — especially on the nude side of the resort. Which brings me to my next point…

5. You will see things that can’t be unseen.

In the words of SNL’s Stefan, “this resort has everything!” Elderly men in thongs. Multiple women fellating one man in the Jacuzzi. People eating chicken naked. Strippers. Orgies. A stage show that involves melted soft-serve ice cream (I think/hope). Awkward naked crouching. SO. MANY. PENISES. It’s all here folks.

 

Two babes, a penis float & a beach 🏝 #nobasicbach

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6. There’s a room for that.

Want to have sex in public but don’t want the awkward chafing of the pool deck? Head to the Romping Shop Playroom. It’s basically a room filled with mattresses and writhing bodies. There’s also a bondage and kink area in an adjacent room. File this under: things that can’t be unseen.

7. There’s a culture of consent.

The goal of the resort is to provide a safe place, so there’s a strict ask before you touch policy. Anyone who is caught acting out of line and/or making people feel uncomfortable will be removed from the property by the staff. So, if you see something, say something.

8. The gift shop carries everything you need…and also a few items that you can’t imagine ever wanting or needing.

Like a penis shaped lighter that’s also a vibrator, a very confusing children’s book OR other items.

HedonismGiftShop

9. Going with a partner? Discuss boundaries first.

All the guests I spoke to said the same thing: if you’re coming as a couple, you need to discuss boundaries  before you get on the plane, so when you arrive you’re both on the same page. As Rick and Margaret — the couple I interviewed for my Toronto Sun piece — told me, “in order to have a good time at Hedonism, you need to trust one and other and be secure in your relationship. Come to the resort because you want to enhance your relationship, not because you’re trying to fix it.”

10. The resort isn’t fancy.

If you’re looking for a high-end luxury resort, Hedonism is probably not for you. The resort is a bit older and has a laid-back, lived in vibe. Guests come for the sex-filled, anything-goes atmosphere and the unorthodox “perks” (see above).

11. Bring your own shampoo.

My bathroom had hand-soap and a full-sized tube of ‘hair and body wash’ but no shampoo, conditioner or body lotion. If you need these items, I suggest bringing your own.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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#tbt to two weeks ago when I had actual hair volume (hi, I missed you) & was wearing colours.

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12. There’s an all you can eat soft serve ice cream station in the main dining room that’s open all night.

Need I say more? This was literally one of my favorite aspects of my stay.

13. The beach grill is your best bet for lunch.

Although the buffet is open for lunch, I ate at the beach grill which serves Jamaican and American comfort food (grilled cheese, fries, jerk chicken etc). Having lived in Toronto for 12 years, I’m picky when it comes to my Jamaican food. A guest favorite, the jerk chicken didn’t wow me, but I loved the curried goat and ribs — washed down with a Pina Colada of course.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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I’m going to miss these lunches at @hedonismjamaica #nobasicbach #oxtailfordays

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14. Eat at Harrysan for dinner.

Sure, you may have to wait for a table but it’s worth it. Harrysan’s Jamaican twist on Japanese Teppenyaki & sushi was my favourite meal at the resort. My advice: if you like fish, try the freshly grilled catch of the day. The fish is so fresh, it melts in your mouth.

15. Don’t wear your best shoes.

Planning to bring your favourite pair of shoes? Just don’t. Between impromptu tropical rainstorms, slippery pool decks and errant spills of all kinds, things have a way of getting messy at all inclusive resorts. I learned this the hard way when I threw up all over my brand new $475 Stuart Weitzman gladiator heels after my first and last Flaming Bob Marley shot.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Yesterday I had a stereotypical work from home day & forgot to shower until noon. Posting this as a reminder that sometimes I do wear real clothes. Dress @aritzia, shoes @stuartweitzman #tbt

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16. If someone offers you a Bob Marley shot, just say no.

Made with Grenadine, Galliano, Creme de Menthe, Overproof rum and lit on fire, the Bob Marley shot is both fruity and minty, making you feel like you just drank a large glass of Koolaid and mouthwash at the same time. There’s no way drinking this can end well (see above re: shoes).

17. The spa is one of the nicest areas of the hotel.

I don’t know what this says about me as a sex writer, but my favorite part of adult themed resorts is always the spa. The spa at Hedonism is newly renovated with high ceilings and an assortment of natural, locally made products for sale. It’s the perfect space to retreat to for a massage if you need a break from the party.

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18. If you want to eat chicken late at night, you’re going to have to strip down.

There are two beach grills. The one that is open all night is located adjacent to the nude pool. If you want to sit and eat there, you can’t wear clothes. This is either the best thing or the worst thing ever, depending on who you ask.

19. Seems quiet? The party is probably happening at the nude pool.

One of the most disconcerting things about Hedonism is how quiet it seems during the day. On the days I was there, the “prude” areas of the resort felt almost deserted. As I discovered, that’s because the party is mostly happening on the nude side of the resort, with the pool being the nucleus of the debauchery. If you set foot there, be prepared to see more things that can’t be unseen (i.e. public sex).

20. All bodies are beach bodies.

Real talk: Hedonism II is not for everyone. There’s nudity. There’s sex. But there’s also a lot of acceptance. Similar to my experience at Temptation, I left the resort with a greater appreciation for my own body (flaws and all) and one massive hangover.

To sum up, Hedonism ii is either going to be your ultimate fantasy or your worst nightmare. You may end up loving it and becoming a regular (I met a lot of couples that have been coming there for 15+ years!) or you may end up wanting to burn your clothes by the end of your stay (or somewhere in between). It all depends on who you are and what you’re looking for in a vacation. All I can say is that Hedonism ii is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Would you ever go to a nude resort?

 

How To Stop Delaying Good Sex & Travel Until Your Body Changes

 

You saw that sparkling picture on Instagram. Your friend came back from her trip and raved about the food, the margaritas, and those postcard-stunning views. You’ve dreamed of traveling there since you were a kid but… That particular destination involves wearing a bikini? IN PUBLIC? And shorts? And see-through caftans? And sleeveless everything? Uh, hard pass.

How many times have you considered a weekend road trip, an afternoon hike, or a red eye flight to an exotic location, but you didn’t book it because of how your body looks?

The internet is full of heartbreaking statistics about how many women think “I hate my body” at least once a day. And as much of a bummer as that internal monologue is all on its own, it leads to more sad statistics that say that women are more likely to cancel plans, skip out on job interviews, and avoid travel and outdoor activities, all because of how we feel about our bodies.

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I’ve written about how my feelings about my body have changed and evolved since entering my thirties. While I’d like to say that this is just a natural consequence of aging, I know it’s more than that.  After I turned 30, something called Instagram happened and I feel like it changed everything. I’ve always had a pretty healthy, secure, relationship with my body, but even I sometimes feel “less than” compared to the plethora of perfectly tanned, buff, influencers that can be found posing in exotic locations with Rapunzel like locks and washboard abs. While I try and disengage from media that makes me feel bad, when I was researching my recent trips to Mexico and Jamaica, I found myself scrolling through these kinds of photos and wondering if I was fit enough/cool enough to visit these locations.

(SPOILER ALERT: we’re ALL hot enough/cool enough do anything we want.)

I can’t be the only person who feels this way, so I reached out to my friend Annika Martins, who’s a Body & Visibility Coach for women entrepreneurs (and also travels 4-8 months a year), and asked her to chime in. Over to her…

Beach bay dress

** Hey, Skinny Dip hunnies! Annika here. Simone and Joe the Intern are my favorite taco-noshin’ crew, so I’m thrilled to give some love to their community.

Here are 5 tips on how you can travel NOW, instead of waiting until your body changes to feel good about yourself (hint: that never works):

Start small and low-key.

Even though I grew up on a Caribbean island, I was so ashamed of my bigger body that I avoided the beach like the plague (despite craving the ocean daily). As an adult, I worked hard at finding true confidence in a swimsuit, and one of the things that helped was starting off gently, with secluded local spots and then quieter, low-traffic travel destinations.

Go during the low-season. Stay at a more mellow resort or an even more private AirBnb.

Those first few times wearing a swimsuit or shorts in public were a BIG deal, so instead of adding to my anxiety by strutting onto a crowded beach, I started somewhere small and low-key. This gave me the mental space to get comfortable with something that had previously been terrifying, and it allowed me to remember the real reason I wanted to wear the swimsuit in the first place: the water on my skin, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and that powdery soft sand between my toes.

Get your mind right BEFOREHAND.

How we feel about our bodies has very little to do with our actual bodies – it’s entirely about what we think of our bodies, so doing some inner work before your trip is key.

Empowering affirmations. Mantras that soothe. Take a non-permanent marker or post-it notes to write encouraging words on your hotel room bathroom mirror.

red dress at Valencia_preview

Most important of all: Prepare a mini-script of things you want to tell yourself if / when you start to feel insecure or panicky. Trying to uplift yourself when you’re overwhelmed and anxious becomes so much easier if you’ve prepared a few bullet points beforehand so you’re not scrambling to come up with healthy self-talk on the spot.

DON’T GO (yet).

There’s a time for pushing beyond our comfort zone and there’s a time for acknowledging that we’re forcing something that truly doesn’t feel right yet (and that’s a guaranteed way to have a crappy travel experience), so if a trip feels entirely out of the cards right now, ask yourself this:

What’s the best & closest possibility?

Instead of getting on the plane or booking that camel trek right this second, how can you experience a small piece of that travel adventure NOW?

Is it having dinner at an Indian restaurant that brings out belly dancers after dessert? Or scrolling through Pinterest pics of your dream destination and visualizing yourself there? Or maybe it’s going to a local pool when no one’s there, or a secluded park to ‘practice’ wearing your vacation-wear?

Choose the best and closest possibility, and then another, and another, until you’re ready to plunk down your passport for the adventure of a lifetime!

Annika Martins runs The Embody Collective – a body image & visibility program for women who want to show up more fully in their body, professional life, relationships, everything. Find her on Instagram or check out her Embody program here.

Quick Advice For Female Travelers In Their Twenties

 

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I‘m here today to talk about one of my favorite topics: travel! One of my main goals when I graduated university at 24 was to travel as much as possible. The problem: I had a very restricted budget (I was broke AF) and was kind of nervous about traveling solo. So, while some of my friends backpacked through Morocco solo, I  got a job at a travel agency, traveled in very large groups and went on adventures with my then-partner. While I think traveling solo is definitely something everyone should experience at least once, it’s only since I’ve been in my 30’s that I’ve become more adventurous when it comes to striking out on my own.

With that said, female travelers in their twenties are becoming increasingly common. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, here’s a few things that I learned while traveling in my 20’s (and also my 30’s!)

Do As Much Research As Possible Beforehand

While it can be tempting to book a trip with reckless abandon, do your research beforehand so you know what you’re getting yourself into (I’d prefer to stay in places that don’t have murdery vibes, but that’s just me). Just don’t go overboard. You don’t want to get analysis paralysis, but you do need to make sure you’re booking places that are safe, secure and come with positive reviews.

Be Mindful of Your Drinking

By the time I started traveling in my 20’s, I’d heard enough stories that started with “so, I woke up naked on a beach in Thailand after blacking out”, that I vowed never to drink while traveling, period. To be clear, drinking is fine, just make sure that you stay safe. You shouldn’t drink too much if you’re alone, or with people you barely know either. Don’t put your drink down, know your limits and use your common sense. (PS. If you’re going to drink absinthe, don’t do it in the shower.)

Stay Somewhere With Great Reviews

Look for places with great reviews so you know you’re staying somewhere trustworthy. I chose my recent hotel in Jamaica not because it was the fanciest place on the strip, but because it had consistently great reviews. A place like Fairfield Inn & Suites Mexico City Vallejo has features you should be looking for. You want to make sure that you’re going to be well looked after, wherever you’re traveling and whatever you’re planning on doing.

Pack Light

Nothing hammers home the importance of packing light like having to lug a heavy suitcase up the stairs of a five story Italian hotel with no elevator or air conditioning (#truestory). As a recovering over-packer, I always have to remind myself that I usually end up only needing 3/4 of what I put in my suitcase. Pack minimally, pick up anything you need/forget when you get there and leave room to bring home anything you might purchase.

Invest In A Portable Charger

I learned this hard way when I went to Disneyland for the first time as an adult and my phone ran out of power halfway through an epic photo-shoot with Joe the Intern. A portable charger will ensure you always have phone battery – not to just update Instagram, but to call a cab or LYFT if you need to.

Eat The Food And Don’t Sweat It

Although you may want to stay healthy on your travels, give yourself permission to let go a little bit. While I don’t regret eating my body weight in tacos last time I was in LA, I do regret that one time I went to Loteria Grill and ordered a salad when I was really craving a plate of juicy lamb Birria. Don’t be afraid to try the specialty dish, and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. It’s not going to kill you!

It’s Okay to Get A Bit Lost

If you get lost, don’t sweat it. You might find something amazing that you wouldn’t have found otherwise — like an amazing hole in the wall restaurant or a cool photo op. Allow yourself some freedom in your schedule to really explore and find new things. For everything else, there’s Google Maps.

Enjoy The Moment – Not Through A Screen

For the majority of my twenties, smart phones simply didn’t exist (shout out to my Nokia flip phone, RIP!) so this wasn’t an issue. Now I try to make a concerted effort to limit screen time as much as possible when I’m traveling. Make sure you’re properly enjoying the moment as you travel, and not just through a screen. Be mindful of what you’re seeing. By all means, snap some pictures, but make sure you actually take in the moment yourself.

A Quick Note On Safety

Don’t listen to anyone who says “it’s not safe for females to travel alone.” While there’s definitely some locations that are safer than others (and some that you probably want to avoid altogether), if you carefully plan where you’re going and take safety precautions, you should be fine. You can’t let fear of the unknown stop you from exploring!

Hopefully, these tips have been helpful.

Bon Voyage! xx

On Traveling, Toronto and Ghost Towns

 

If the city of Toronto and I had a relationship status it would be, “it’s complicated.”

November 11th, 2017 marked the 6th year anniversary of my move back to the west coast and yet, whenever I meet anyone new, one of the first things they always ask me is, “do you miss Toronto?”

After years of having to answer this question, I’ve perfected my answer.

I miss my friends. I miss eating at my favorite Nicaraguan restaurant. I miss the diversity and being able to get almost any kind of food, any time of day (like 24hr Jamaican takeout). I miss walking down Queen St West on a sunny day. Sometimes I miss the nightlife (although I doubt I could still keep up with my old party schedule). But do I actually miss living in the city? Not really.

When I moved to BC, I traded the excitement and conveniences of big city life for a more balanced lifestyle. Things are better for me here. I’m healthier, I’m less anxious and I’m generally happier.

I haven’t been to Toronto for a proper visit in 6 years and don’t really feel sad about it.

After years of going back and forth to see my family, I’d rather spend my money traveling to places that I haven’t been before. Besides, it’s cheaper for me to fly to LA than it is for me to go to Toronto — and you know how much me and Joe the Intern love The California.

(Besides, people should come visit me. We have the warmest weather in Canada. And beaches. And fresh sushi for days. I mean, it’s pretty fucking rad here.)

This is what I tell people, but the truth is more complicated.

Toronto gave me a lot of things. Wonderful friendships. Love. Awesome professional connections. Assertiveness, drive, ambition and the ability to hustle.

However, Toronto was also the site of a lot of soul crushing, worst-moments-of-my-life, heartbreak. My last two trips there were bitter sweet. I had a wonderful time catching up with friends, but it also felt like memories and reminders were around every corner.

Toronto isn’t the big, bad, concrete jungle that a lot of Canadians make it out to be. It’s a great city. Really. But going back there is emotionally complicated for me. I know I’ll eventually come visit Toronto, but for now I’d rather travel to places where I don’t have to deal with the same kinds of uncomfortable feelings.

I used to wonder if my aversion to Toronto was all in my head, until this past October when I missed my flight home from Cancun (police incident on the freeway) and found myself in T.O for an unexpected ten hour layover.

I thought of calling one of my close friends to stay with her, but she now lives in Newmarket and it wouldn’t be worth the long drive. Instead, I went to apply for a hotel voucher from the airline. Half an hour later, I was settled into a grim airport hotel where everything was a faded brown hue, including the stained carpet.

Maybe it was the jet lag or the shock of finding myself removed from the high-voltage colors of Mexico, but when I pulled back those beige filmy curtains and looked out the floor to ceiling windows of my hotel room, I was struck by something.

This is not my home anymore and I don’t want to be here.

The feeling was so intense that it contributed to my decision to decline a work opportunity that would bring me back to Toronto the following week. On the flight home the next day, I felt a huge sense of relief as soon as the Pacific Ocean came into sight.

This is all to say that it’s okay to know what feels like home and what doesn’t. It’s okay to protect your emotional well-being. Don’t feel guilty about any of it.

That isn’t to say that the city of Toronto and I aren’t on speaking terms.

Between four red-eye flights to the Caribbean over the past four months, Toronto and I have cobbled together a new relationship of sorts. It involves groggy 4am breakfast sandwiches at Tim Hortons, followed by a lengthy browse through the Jo Malone duty free shop (aka heaven) — a ritual I now look forward to every time I pass through YYZ.

There’s lots of friends to hug, babies to meet and new homes to celebrate, so I know I’ll eventually make it back to Toronto for a visit sometime in the near future, but for now “complicated” works for me.

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