Never Drink Absinthe in the Shower & Other Things I’ve Learned from Travel

This post originally appeared on my friend Caryn’s blog a few months ago. Other than my story about getting hit on by teenagers, I haven’t really shared much about my former life as a travel agent. Since I really liked how this post turned out and I’m hoping to make travel a key part of 2013, I thought I would re-post it incase you missed it the first time.

Travel has always been high on my list of priorities. When I graduated university in 2004 with a degree in Anthropology all I wanted to do was travel the world and experience all of the places I had only read about in textbooks. However, after 4 years of working multiple jobs and taking out student loans to put myself through school, I was completely broke with hefty loan payments looming in the very near future. What’s a broke girl with globetrotting dreams to do? I needed to find a job that would pay me to travel, so when it came time to look for my first “real job” I turned to the travel industry. After a very brief stint as a flight attendant for a Canadian airline, I realized working in the sky was not for me and I gladly accepted a desk job with a international company that specialized in educational travel.

For 3 years I had the best and worst job in the world.

I worked in a department that sold and produced international educational tours for high school students. If your high school ever did one of those “Go to Europe for 10 days and see 5 countries!” class trips, there’s a good chance that my former company was responsible. My job specifically was to sell these tours to teachers and then work with them throughout the booking process from recruiting students, booking the tour and following up with any “issues” once they got back (I’ll explain about that last part in a second)

The big upside to my job was that I got to work with some of the best people ever (many of whom are still good friends) and once a year I got to go on a free trip. In the three years I worked there I travelled to Germany, Paris, The South of France, Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Naples and spent 17 days in Greece taking in Athens and the Islands.

The downside? Most of this travel involved actually travelling with high school students. Yes, high school students – as in actual teenagers. From my experience, when you mix students and travel, crazy shit inevitably happens. The other 50 weeks of the year when I wasn’t traipsing around Europe, I was at my desk for 10 to 12 hours a day trying to “fix the crazy.” From exploding luggage, sinking cruise ships, bizarro teachers and stolen snowmobiles, to bus accidents and students giving birth on tour, you haven’t experienced “crazy” until you’ve worked in student travel. Anything that could go wrong, usually does at some point and you have to fix it. Yes you. The recent graduate who’s making 27k a year.

Here’s 10 life lessons I’ve learned from travelling and working in the industry:

1. Roll with the punches. This is true in both life and travel as both are totally unpredictable. You can prepare all you want but there’s always going to be something unexpected that happens. If you’re travelling, stay calm and work it out. Don’t let the fact that things aren’t absolutely “perfect” ruin your trip.

2. Your hotel room doesn’t matter. Ok, so I hope none of you ever have to have the following conversation with your travel agent: “So, that hotel you booked us into in Rome has blood stains on the wall” (true story) but at the end of the day, as long as your hotel room is clean and safe the rest doesn’t matter. It’s always amazing to stay at a super luxe hotel, however in my opinion, if you’re “doing travel right” you won’t be spending much time in your room anyways.

3. Not everything is going to be like home and that’s a good thing: I remember sitting in a restaurant in Nice with a group of students and chaperones from South Carolina, eating a plate of roasted chicken and fries that the waiter had just served us. As one of chaperones bit into her chicken she screamed out in horror: “This ain’t Southern Fried Chicken!” No, no it’s not – BECAUSE YOU’RE IN FRANCE. Although sometimes regional differences can be unsettling (this chicken did taste pretty weird, dude) try to embrace them. If we wanted things to always be the same we’d never leave home.

Hanging out in Delphi, Greece 2006.

4. Drinking Absinthe in the shower is a very bad idea: This sounds like it should be yet another story about me making a drunken fool out of myself, but for once it’s not! Two of the students I travelled with purchased a bottle of Absinthe in Rome and decided to spend the evening drinking it in their hotel room. In an Absinthe fuelled haze they thought it was a good idea to turn on the shower, promptly forgetting about it for the rest of the night. In the morning they woke up to a flooded hotel room. The lesson here: don’t consume strange alcohol or substances in foreign places, or at least not while you’re bathing.

5. Some people have a very bad sense of geography: Don’t assume that just because someone is booking a trip with you that they have any clue about where they are going…even if they’re a teacher. For example, “Monocco” isn’t a real country, nor is “Budapest” a country (and no, there’s currently not a war happening there). You can’t take a “quick ferry” from Costa Rica to Puerto Rico and driving from London to Athens isn’t “an easy day trip.” I know these things because I am Canadian, don’t live in an Igloo and have access to these things called maps.

6. My knack for attracting weirdos is an international phenomenon: While walking through a square in Florence I was stopped by a man who claimed to be a modelling agent. He asked me if I wanted to go out that night and “party with some of his girls” I’m pretty sure by “modelling agent” he meant “pimp” and by “party” he meant “recruit me into the white slave trade”. Lesson here: trust your gut. If something seems “off” – run in the other direction.

Posing in front of the Acropolis in Athens

7. If you’re going to engage in questionable behaviour, always lock the door: This goes out to the group of students who thought it was a good idea to make a homemade porno during their class trip to Italy, only to have their teacher walk in on them while filming. If you’re going to do something creepy like that, at least have the curtesy to lock the door. Your teacher now has that traumatic image burned into her brain forever, as do I.

8. Every travel experience changes you: No matter where you go, there’s always value in travel. I can’t think of a single trip I’ve taken – even if it’s just a weekend getaway – that hasn’t given me a new perspective of some kind.

9. Be nice to your travel agent: It’s bad karma to constantly complain and yell at her until she cries. If you don’t she might enact her silent revenge by specifying that the airline serve you “baby food” when it comes time to order your airplane meal. (That guy never complained again.)

Sitting on the black sand beach in Santorini – one of my favourite places in the whole world.

10. I’m stronger and more capable than I ever thought: I’ve consoled a crying father who hadn’t been able to get in touch with his son when the London subway bombings took place. I’ve also dealt with a tour that had to be evacuated from a sinking cruise ship and re-booked a group of 30 students who were stranded in Miami from the darkness of my living room at 3:30 AM. While I was doing these things, I kept saying “I’m clearly not equipped to deal with any of this” but the truth is I am and that’s something to be proud of.

What have you learned from travelling?

It’s Not What You Think it is. Really.

Since I’ve been in Toronto I’ve been staying with Ange-Line, one of my best friends. A designer by trade, on Friday night she invited me to come out to a design industry party she’d helped organize. I think her exact words were: “You should totally come. You might meet some cute artsy/design guys!”  Never one to say no to cocktails and eye-candy, I put on my Friday night’s best and met her at the venue.

When I got there I immediately noticed this really striking guy: curly dark hair, cocoa coloured skin, dark brown eyes, nice smile – just my type. Maybe my friend was right? However, when I scanned the room a second time, my eyes once again fell on the dark haired hottie who was standing with a group of people eating a very large sandwich – and not just any kind of sandwich, a fully loaded Reuben, wrapped in checkerboard paper like they have at the Jewish Deli. As Mr. Dark & Lovely bit into the Reuben, mustard oozed out of sandwich and a piece of sauerkraut hung limply from his lips.


When he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, I should have known that this was a sign of things to come that night.

You see, at Ange’s apartment theres been a weird smell the past few days. It smells like sulphur (rotten eggs) and it’s been coming up through the heat vents in the floor. As I was getting ready for the party I had noticed that it was getting increasingly worse and it was starting to worry me. I headed out to meet Ange and called my Mom along the way. As I was describing the smell to my Mom, the girl sitting next to me on the streetcar said: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but it sounds like you might have a gas leak!”

By the time I got to the party a few minutes later I was distracted and a little panicked. I shared my concerns with my friend and had a quick drink to calm my nerves. After witnessing the Reuben incident I told Ange, “I think I should go back to the house and call the gas company, just to be safe” I called the gas company who confirmed my worst suspicions, that we might have a gas leak on our hands. A few minutes later I was in a cab racing back to apartment to meet one of their technicians.

When I got back to the apartment, Ange sent me a text that said “Make sure you ask the girls who live upstairs for a key to the basement.”

My friend’s neighbours are of a similar breed as my former neighbour who I suspected was a “Sexual Werewolf“. Think lots of parties, loud noises and just general questionable behaviour. When I rang their doorbell, Girl #1 opened the door and SCREAMED.

“Omg, I totally didn’t expect to see you there!”

(Um, I just rang the doorbell?!)

I explained the situation and that I needed the key to the basement. To which she replied,

“It’s totally not gas! Our apartment smells really bad too but it’s because last winter we had a bunch of rats that died in the walls. It’s probably just the dead rats and some flooding in the basement”

“Ok, well that’s not exactly reassuring. The gas company seemed to think it was concerning, so I’m going to let them check it out”

“Oh for sure, but you’re probably wrong. It’s not gas”


At this point, Girl #2 who was standing behind her holding a glass of Jungle Juice says “Our apartment doesn’t smell like rotten eggs, it smells like Poop. I don’t think it’s gas”

Girl #3 (also drunk): “Are we going to Diiiiiiie?”

Girl #1: Can I come over and smell your apartment?

“Um, sure?”

She steps into my friend’s apartment and says:

“Ewwww! It definitely smells in here. But it’s definitely not gas”

“I’m pretty sure it is”

“It’s not”

“I think it is”

“It isn’t”

“I’ll let the gas company be the judge of that”


“Do you mind if I bring the guys nextdoor over to smell your apartment?”

“Um, OK?”

A few minutes later, two (stoned? slightly drunk?) men show up at my door.

Girl #1: “Don’t worry about these guys! They’re the loveliest people ever”

Guy #1 inhales and says, “You know it’s not gas right? It’s just the old pipes and dead rats in the wall”

“Well, thanks guys but I’m just going to have it checked out anyways”

Guy #1 “Suit yourself, but it’s not gas. It’s probably just the rats again”


A few minutes later I headed out onto the stoop to wait for the technician to arrive. I literally jumped in fright when I heard someone say:

“You know it’s not gas right?”

I look over and there’s guy #1 standing in the dark on the other side of the porch.

“I work in a kitchen and sometimes when it gets cold outside, the deep fryer just starts to smell really, really bad. I bet the same thing is happening here. That or the dead rats again”

(Note to self: find out where this guy works and never eat there.)

Welcome to my Friday Night.

Eventually the gas company showed up. When the technician stepped inside the apartment he said:

“Yep, there’s definitely gas here….SEWER GAS”

I don’t understand the technicalities of it all but as it turns out that the pipes in the basement were leaking sewer gas which was making the apartment smell like a turtle tank that hadn’t been cleaned in three months. On Sunday the landlord sent someone over to clean everything up and now the apartment smells like chlorine, which is still way better than the alternative. Just think…

It could have been worse. It could have been dead rats.

Wooden Monkeys, Shoes and Getting out More.

When I moved back to BC in November following my break-up I knew I wanted a change. Correction: I needed a change. Desperately. I willfully gave up the fast pace lifestyle of Toronto that included a lot of open bar media parties, late nights and uncomfortable (but sexy) footwear in favour of living with my 60-year old Mom in “Sleepytown” – the mid-sized beachside town I grew up in on the West Coast of Canada. These days my life involves less stilettos and late night cocktails and more Birkenstocks, quiet nights & peaceful times spent with my best friend and her 2-year old daughter. Sometimes I have these moments where I catch myself missing Toronto. I miss the friends I have there and I’ll often find myself standing in front of my closet feeling sorry for some of the pieces of my wardrobe that never get worn anymore. This town’s biggest downside is that there is nowhere to wear things like rainbow coloured Marc Jacobs shoes, a vintage Armani dress or a luxurious fur vest without looking slightly ridiculous. On the flip side, I feel at peace here. I’m healthy, I get lots of fresh air and my hair hasn’t looked this thick in years (FYI. Toronto water is murder on your locks. Trust me.)

However, this newfound sense of peace has allowed me to get “comfortable” – maybe a little too comfortable. In fact, I’ve settled into the laid back pace here so well that sometimes it feels like I’m living the life of a Senior Citizen. Recent Vegas antics and Portland wine tour  aside – my day to day life is pretty low key. I work from home and spend a lot of time alone or with my family. I was OK with all of this until one day I caught myself lingering a little too long for my own comfort in the scrapbooking aisle of Walmart before moving on to another store where I legitimately contemplated buying a giant body pillow shaped like a sock monkey. Hello, rock bottom. Nice to meet you.

A few days later my Mom sat me down and said:

“I’m getting kind of worried about you. I think you need to get out more”

I had to laugh to myself. A few months prior to this conversation, my life regularly involved going to a cocktail party, coming home around 11:30 (half tipsy), editing a freelance article before filing it & getting up early the next day to go to my day job. The last thing I needed was to “get out more”

My Mom: “I think you’re getting a bit….weird. Maybe you should try making some new friends”

Is it possible that my rapidly growing wooden monkey collection tipped her off?

Considering it was 4pm and I was wearing leopard print pyjamas when she told me this, I had to agree.

Lately, I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to socialize, make new connections and re-establish old ones. The last time I actively tried to make new friends was when I moved to Toronto, 12+ years ago. Here is what I’ve learned from the process this time around:

Making new friends means doing things you never thought you’d do. 

This summer I did something I swore I’d never do.

I joined a book club. 

I’ve been anti-book club for as long as I can remember. Mostly because I dislike the idea of “assigned reading.” However, my friend let me in on a secret: book clubs are really just an excuse to hang out, drink and eat delicious things. I’m very good at doing all of those things!

FYI. We’re currently reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by the Bloggess and How to Make Love like a Pornstar by Jenna Jameson, which we’re meeting on Thursday to discuss. This is my kind of book club.

Although joining a book club feels like the stereotypical thing you do when you move back to a small town, it’s a start. You can’t go on a wine bus tour everyday. Besides, the book club girls are nice and I just might get to wear my rainbow Marc Jocobs shoes after all.

What I didn’t mention about the wine tour that I probably should, is that I spent the next 12 hours afterward being violently ill. It was bad. Really, really bad. Like, “I’m so embarassed that I’m 31 and this is happening to me” BAD. Me and that much wine are not friends. My Mom and I were discussing this the other day:

My Mom: “You really freaked your sister out. She called me that night to tell me that you were passed out on the bathroom floor”

Me: “I heard that conversation which means I wasn’t passed out. I was merely resting between dry heaves. There’s a big difference”

To which I added with a smile and a raised eyebrow, “Besides Mom, you should be proud of me. I made a lot of new friends that day!”

Mom: “I think you should stick to book clubs”

So there you have it. Things to take away from this post: I need to make more friends and probably quit drinking.

If you have any advice on either of the above, please share!

Things I Would Tell my 20-Year Old Self #11 – Laura

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the past week, I’ve been on a road-trip with my family (cue call to therapist.) I’m half joking – the trip, for the most part was actually a lot of fun (more on that soon!) However, now I have a lot of everyday life stuff, work and blogging to catch up on. Getting back into the swing of things has been harder than I thought. My half unpacked suitcase currently looks like it’s throwing up on my bedroom floor and yesterday I thought it was Monday, when clearly it was Wednesday.

Since I’m obviously a total train-wreck this week, I’m really grateful that Laura of Red Lips and Academics offered to take the reigns and write the next instalment of Things I Would Tell my 20-Year Old Self.  Laura is another awesome Bloggers in Sin City alum that I had the pleasure of meeting this year. Laura writes beautifully and just is all around lovely. She’s also a very stylish lady and I’m sure at several points during the conference I creeped her out because I was staring at one of her fabulous handbags or statement necklaces – this girl knows how to accessorize!  She’s also one of the people I met at BiSC that I wish I’d had more of a chance to get to know. It was only after we met that I found out we both love author Francesca Lia Block, which makes me automatically adore Laura too. I’m really happy to have Laura guest blogging today & hope that we’ll get a chance to hang out again in the future!

Hopefully you guys can relate to Laura’s advice to her younger self as much as I can (FYI. I probably should have had #2 tattooed on my arm during most of my 20’s.) Take it away Laura!

20-year old Laura

That boy you’re so madly in love with now? Not going to be there in seven years. But that’s okay.

Right now, you have no idea that boy you adore so much will soon break your heart. No idea those nights curled up in the crook of his arm will end. No idea you won’t spend another day sending silly text messages. No idea you’ll have to relearn how to be on your own. You’ll have no idea why it didn’t work out until many years later. And when you finally figure why, you’ll be thankful that it didn’t.

You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Including yourself.

I get it. You were a terrible high school student. Unenthused. Apathetic. Now you want to “make up for it” by being an overachieving college student with good grades and an even better resume. Listen, you don’t need to prove that you’re smart, good, _______ enough to your parents, your professors, your friends, yourself or anyone. Quit looking for self-validation in other people or outside achievements and just believe in yourself. You are enough.

Don’t bother making career plans. You’ll change your mind anyway.

Remember when you wanted to be a veterinarian or a psychologist? Doubt it. You’ve dutifully made plans all your life only to change your mind a few years, months, minutes later. So don’t freak out too much when you decide senior year of college you no longer want to be a journalist. I know you’ll think you’ve lost your way and wasted the past three years of your life in school, but you haven’t. Something bigger and better is in store with you outside of your plans, outside your comfort zone. Keep working hard. You’re preparing yourself for it.

You don’t change much in seven years, so start accepting yourself now.

You may change your mind about a lot of things, but who you are stays the same. You still dance wildly out-of-sync to pop songs. You still haven’t gotten over your childhood fear of grasshoppers. You still refuse to eat the crusts of your sandwiches. So get used to the quirks and start loving your flaws, and only hang around people who do both of those things willingly and out of love. You’ve got the rest of your life of just being you, and things will be a lot easier if you just accept who you are and forget those who don’t.

Enjoy being in your early twenties because that does change.

The window where you can do stupid stuff and blame it on your age is quickly closing, my friend. So, live it up and make the most of it! Do something others or even you find completely crazy. Take a risk. Then take another one. Make a good story, learn some hard lessons, and don’t be afraid to live your life. Silly, wild youth is a fleeting dream world. Enjoy your stay while it lasts.

27-year old Laura.

Follow Laura on Twitter (@laurabond) & make sure to check out her blog.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Things I Would Tell My 20-Year Old Self # 10 – Kate

I’m on vacation this week visiting my family in sunny Kelowna, BC. I’m trying to stay as “unplugged” as possible so I am really glad that Kate of Suburban Sweetheart  volunteered to write the next instalment of Things I Would Tell My 20-Year Old Self.

Suburban Sweetheart was one of the first blogs I really connected with when I started blogging. Kate has killer writing chops and is by far one of my favourite bloggers & writers, period. From her hilarious documentation of daily life, to her heartfelt posts about her loved ones, Kate is the only Blogger that has managed to make me laugh so hard I snorted AND cry, all within a couple posts. I’ve heard her blog described as “Seinfeld-esque” which is partially true – if you know, Jerry Seinfeld was female, had a social conscious and was actually someone you wanted to be friends with. Kate is smart, witty & stands up for what she believes in. This is all to say that I think she’s great and I am really honoured to have her guest blogging for me! I love her advice to her younger self and I hope you do too.

Dear 20-Year-Old Kate,

Man, it’s going to be a rough year for you. Like, “rough” doesn’t actually cover it. You thought last year was rough because during your sophomore year of college, life started to get a little nutty: You joined a sorority. Your roommate-slash-former best friend moved out. Your boyfriend of a year dumped you because he said you were “too depressing” (ouch). You were almost arrested for smoking pot with your RA, of all people. You drank a lot, slept around a lot, and cried a lot – sometimes all at the same time.

Kate, everything that happened last year was just building up to this one. Your twentieth year should be exciting, right? You should be full of “I’m not a teenager anymore!” happiness and excitement. But if you thought last year was bad, this year is going to grab you by the hair and smash your face against the ground like a bitch in a bar-fight. You’re going to wonder whether you can make it through; you’re going to doubt that there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that is your life. You’re going to think about killing yourself, but your ex-boyfriend is going to do it to himself first, and then you’re going to go bat-shit crazy for awhile. You will transfer colleges, move in with your mom, start dating someone new. You will basically lose yourself – not just this year, but for another year or two afterward, as well.

If I could give you a few pieces of retroactive advice, my dear young self, they’d be:

  • Life is better when you’re alive. This sounds like a given, but you don’t really feel this way right now, andI’m worried about you. Don’t you dare squander this opportunity to live your life.
  • Don’t date down. Years from now, you will recognize that in your grief, you started dating someone who was all kinds of wrong for you. A nice guy, sure, but do you really want to be dating someone with no education and zero ambition? Someone who laughs like a donkey with a sinus infection and dances like he’s being electrocuted? Take note, 20-Year-Old Kate. Bad choice.
  • Your sadness does not define you. At this point, you’ve started to believe that unless you’re hideously unhappy, you are not being your true self, like you’re some magnet for disaster. You’re a better writer when you’re lost, it’s true, but you’re also miserable, so it’s not actually a great trade-off. Let yourself get better, Kate. Let yourself be happy. The writing will survive. Let yourself survive.
  • Medication is not embarrassing. You’re going to cry like a baby when your doctor prescribes you Prozac – but then it’s going to start working, and you’ll never be embarrassed of it again. You wouldn’t think twice about taking medicine to control diabetes or high blood pressure, would you? Neither should you feel any shame about your depression. Let modern science work some miracles on you.
  • Just say no to McGriddles. Commuting to college from your mom’s house for an 8:00am class every day makes stopping for fast food breakfast reaaaaally tempting. But, um, I’m going to hate you for this one later because those pancake sandwiches sure have done a number on my – er, our – once enviable figure. Stop eating your feelings.

Let’s be honest, 20-year-old Kate: I can’t change things for you, no matter how much I’d like to try. The truth is that you’re in a bad spot right now, and you’re going to be for a couple more years. It’s going to be a long, hard road back to the top, but please believe me when I say that you will get there. And once you do? Man, you’re gonna have some stories to tell.

Lots of love,
Almost-28-Year-Old Kate

Follow Kate on Twitter (@heysuburban) & check out her wonderful blog here

What advice would you give to your younger self?

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