Prepping for Our Vietnam Holiday

It’s Eid Al Adha so I wish all of you Eid Mubarak!   I am off on holiday and, as chance has it, my husband’s leave coincides with mine!  So tomorrow we are off to Vietnam.

We’ve tried to go to Vietnam twice already, but sickness and work seem to get in the way…so I might just stay home today and wrap myself in bubblewrap and eat nothing but potatoes (easy to digest, definitely not going to make me ill).

Anyways, it’s been a busy work week so I’m a little bit in that state of “I can’t believe I get to go to Vietnam tomorrow”, in part because Miss Saigon is among my absolute favourite stage performances and it’s so cool to be able to be in Ho Chi Minh city for the weekend.

hoping to read at least some of this book today....and bring it with me...even after the trip, reflecting through this book will be interesting
hoping to read at least some of this book today….and bring it with me…even after the trip, reflecting through this book will be interesting

So here’s what I’ve been doing in preparation:

  1. I just took out this book by travel writer Gavin Young “A Wavering Grace” which hopefully will get me better acquainted with the history of Vietnam and its fairly recent war (and escape from it which, I have heard, has been a beautiful story of resilience, grace, and forgiveness).
  2. I’ve been searching online (okay…mainly watching Ken search online) via travel sites like Tripadvisor to get better acquainted with the city and ‘must sees.’
  3. I’m reading this National Geographic travel book on Vietnam and getting inspired.  Yes, we are focusing on Ho Chi Minh city and I’m very excited for the museums and the cafes…apparently the legacy of French colonialism has stayed and the cafes especially are a reflection of this.
  4. Gym time!  Ken found us this really awesome bike tour which sounds fabulous…but means my body needs to be ready to move move move.  This is definitely one thing that has kept me going to the gym this week. And as a sidenote – I’ve really been thinking about the importance of fitness for travel: there’s a world of opportunities that open up when you’re physically fit for them!
Travel books are fun for getting your inspired! National Geographic is great for their inspiring pictures and glossy pages but, to be honest, other travel books offer more in the way of detailed maps and information.

Eventually this afternoon I will need to pack, but one of my biggest tips is to ALWAYS HAVE TOILETRIES READILY AVAILABLE.  So it’s going to be pretty easy to whip things into the bag and be ready to go!

So left to do today besides packing:

  1. Make sure I have extra passport photos (always good to have on you e.g. for visas)
  2. Make my list of ‘top five things I have to do’
  3. Make my list of ‘top things I have to eat’
  4. Finish prepping work for next week so that when I come back tired and jetlagged I have nothing to do to prepare for classes.

Anyone else travelling for the Eid holiday? Where are you off to and how are you preparing?

Have a safe and lovely Eid everyone!  Eid Mubarak!


Reading a Place Into Memory

Rachel McMillan’s debut novel can be pre-ordered on Amazon:

Reading is powerful.  Books are powerful.  And fiction is far more powerful than often people realize.  My sister, Rachel McMillan, has her first published book coming out in January (if you love history, mystery, detectives, think female Sherlocke Holmes, you will LOVE her book – visit for more info AND to pre-order!)

One thing I really learned through my sister is the extent to which fiction writers work and research and travel and learn to make their novel as real as possible.

While my sister’s characters are make believe, while it isn’t presently the Edwardian era, while she isn’t a detective herself, Rachel has… travelled, gone through archives, read book upon masterpiece book, and even learned some Italian…all for the sake of historical accuracy!

So when you pick up her book, you’ll not only be entertained, but you will learn about history and social studies and geography and…

That is what I love about fiction.  I love that the GOOD authors, the authors WORTH reading and coming back to, THEY have DONE their homework!

And so I am crazy excited about reading Rachel’s novel.  Not just because buying your sister’s novel in a bookstore, having her sign it, and then cracking the cover and reading YOUR SISTER’S NOVEL is the coolest thing ever…but also because I am excited to learn more about women’s roles and life in early 20th century Toronto – a city I love.  I’m excited to learn about the role of immigration and mysteries and women’s rights in a city I love.

And so I am crazy excited about one day going to Turkey.  Especially Istanbul.  Because I have been brought there countless times over the last decade thanks to Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak.  I have wandered the streets of Istanbul, crossed the streets along the Bosphorus…I have sat in cafes downtown…I have wandered through old buildings across government buildings and into museums.

Many Canadian friends tell me how exciting their first trip to London, England was on account of the many books they had read therein located.

a singular
Rachel’s novella will be released THIS December. Stay tuned!

Reading has this amazing way of committing a place to memory, so much so that when we travel there, we hold a special place of it in our hearts.  And the amazing thing is that once we arrive, we can compare our memory, our mind’s eye, our idea, with the reality.

If you like travelling, read.  If you don’t have the means to travel to a place you’d love to visit, pick up books – fiction – and read historical fiction and mysteries and romance…all set in your desired locale.

You might not be able to transport yourself to early 1900s Toronto, but my sister’s book WILL make you feel as though you are there.

And sometimes, curling up with tea or wine in hand and a really good book, candles lit in the background, is the second best thing to travelling.

Holidays, Weekends, and Free Time

When we read about a country, often we’re accessing the news or travel websites or websites by international organizations that give us information like the UNDP or IMF.

But these websites tell us more about the economic, politics, and social aspects of a country during work hours, rather than what happens on weekends, holidays, and during one’s free time there.

CHRISTMAS RITUALS!!!  How are holidays celebrated?  Great question that provides many interesting and authentic answers when traveling.
CHRISTMAS RITUALS!!! How are holidays celebrated? Great question that provides many interesting and authentic answers when traveling.

So here’s your helpful travel hint of the day…

If at all possible, while you’re traveling in a country, find out what happens after work hours.  What do people do?  Where do they go?  Where do they travel?  What makes them most happy?

Saturday morning on the road from Ottawa.  Stop by any side of the road stop during the summer months in Canada and you'll get a feel for culture and tourism in-country!
Saturday morning on the road from Ottawa. Stop by any side of the road stop during the summer months in Canada and you’ll get a feel for culture and tourism in-country!

If we are trying to experience a community authentically, we can’t just read in the news about the economy, or understand the political makeup, or view where and when people jog off to work, and get a true picture of the social landscape.

No, we must observe the country on its independence day, see what’s happening on the weekends, see what happens at 5 o’clock when the office has closed and people are able to scurry about in the way that they most please.

You can tell more about Canadians on Canada Day or Thanksgiving Day or a Saturday morning market crawl than you will in a 3 pm board  meeting.

And yet it’s the outcome of that 3 pm board meeting that gets the most news coverage: economic decisions, politics, imports and exports.

Getting the apple cider brewing last Christmas - a major staple in many Canadian households throughout the Christmas season.  Also means houses smell DELICIOUS throughout the season!
Getting the apple cider brewing last Christmas – a major staple in many Canadian households throughout the Christmas season. Also means houses smell DELICIOUS throughout the season!

There is so much we can only learn through travel.  So take the opportunity to learn it!  Find out about what constitutes relaxation.  And then maybe learn another way to relax yourself….

Happy relaxing and happy traveling to you!

Why Journalling Matters

I’m a huge advocate of journalling.  Writing helps me to process my thoughts, align my stories with reality, find peaceful moments in my life, and just reflect.  I love reflecting.

But I’m also a really big nerd.  And the idea of reflecting and journalling and thought processing is music to my ears!

My current journal (well, one of a few, but the others are packed). Journaling is also great professionally. I always jot down quick notes after my classes: what worked well, what didn’t, and where I should start off my next class (i.e. concepts to review based on my reflection on what students were especially struggling with). Journalling has improved my work as an educator. Reflecting is great in all aspects of life!

Not everyone loves journalling.  I get that.  I understand that I made the decision to blog…and plenty of people out there would find this in their list of “things to avoid: writing random thoughts on the internet.”

But when you’re travelling, I argue that it’s important, if not essential, to journal.  At least for five seconds.  At least once.  Or maybe twice.

So if you were in one my classes where you went overseas, I’d force you to journal.  In fact, writing a reflective journal would constitute at least 30% of your overall mark.  That’s how much I think journalling matters.

But I promise it’s not because I want to turn my students into “Leah Polonenko clones.”  No, I don’t force journalling because I’m mean.  I force journalling (or strongly encourage with the incentive of grades…) because it’s a PROVEN tool to increase learning and experiences.

What happens when you journal?

  1. You process.  You do.  And I know you might say “but everyone processes differently” – but journalling needn’t be with long wordy sentences.  You can write lists.  You can draw a picture.  You can write bullet points.  But by writing what you’re feeling, you are PROVEN to be better able to reflect, think through, and thus process emotional feelings.

    My mini journal: even when I have a small bag, I always need something on which to write!
  2. Journalling forces you to reflect.  People who are natural journalers, like me, are more natural reflectors.  Not everyone sits there with tea in the morning thinking through their day’s goals, as I do.  But when traveling, it’s imperative that you think through experience and REALIZE that emotions that you are having.  For example, how will you know if you’re contending with culture shock if you don’t sit, think, and realize it?  Especially for the non-reflectively inclined, journaling forces to do a little bit of thinking.  Think of it as a personal check to make sure you’re okay.
  3. MEMORIES!  Journalling forces you to hold onto memories.  I love going through past travel journals to remember little anecdotes, people I forgot, whole days that would have been a distant memory (i.e. completely gone) otherwise.
Mini sketch pad: just in case the moment strikes and I need something…. Mini pads and mini journals are the best if you want to have what you need when you want them!

If you are working through journalling for school, or if you are an experiential educator, I will soon be writing a separate list of reasons, which include bringing theory into practice in a more centred and holistic manner.  But these, dear friends, are three AMAZING reasons to start journalling today.

Remember – you don’t need to be wordy.  Maybe it’s more colouring.  Maybe it’s more sketching.  Maybe it’s more listing.  But journal.  Do something with a pen or pencil and paper.

Happy times being creative!

What I’m Reading

Today I’m reading Charles Beitz’ “The Idea of Human Rights” and Michael J. Perry’s “The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries.”

I’m also enjoying leisure reading by Karen Wheeler – “Toute Allure: Falling in Love in Rural France.”

I love travel books hence the last item!  Being able to learn more about a place through the eyes of a fellow traveller is really helpful.

The human rights?  Apart from my own research writing, it’s good to get back into the theoretical debates the underpin my work.  I’ve read Beitz in the past, but I wanted to connect back and see if there’s anything I’ve missed.  I’ve never read Perry’s work (it came up when I was searching for Beitz’ at the library”) so look forward to reading some new ideas.

On my Audible, audiobooks to help me learn while journeying an hour and a half to work twice a week, I’m listening to this really captivating book about how we learn best.  It’s called “Make it Stick” by Peter C. Brown  and I really like it because it throws out our usual logic.

What are you reading?

Responding to “So, How Was Your Trip?!”

You’ve just returned from your adventure.  You’re excited.  You’re full of life.  You’ve changed, seen new things, and have a million stories and pictures to tell about it.

Then someone you know, a friend, colleague, or relative, asks you “so, how was your trip?!”

And instantly you have a problem.  A problem because things person either falls into 1 of 3 categories:

  1. They’re asking out of politeness and really just want you to say, “good, thanks, how are you?!” Much like “how are you?” often is used more as a greeting than an actual question.
  2. They do want to know, but only have 1 minute and 30 seconds to listen.
  3. They really do mean it…they want to know!

These 3 persons pose 3 different types of responses.  And herein lies the problem.  Obviously the first person is just looking for “good”.  Tell them that.  Unless it was horrible.  In which case say “bad”, because ‘horrible’ is 2 syllables and they only have time for one.

The second person is tricky…what do you share?  how do you describe in such a short time?

The third person is even trickier…you want to share – but what?  and how?  and where to start? and which of your 3000 pictures will you get them to suffer through?

On the plane ride home, or in those first few minutes of jetlag recovery, you need to develop:  a 2 minute answer and a longer answer to the question “so, how was your trip?!”

For the 2 minute answer, start by thinking about the MOST important feeling you had leaving the trip.  Joy? Love? Discovery?  Even though your vacation will have had some inevitably negative components, in the 2 minute answer you don’t have time to cover everything.  So stick to this formula:

1 – state the major feeling you have about the trip: I loved it; I grew a lot; I loved the people; It’s such a fascinating part of the world.

2 – pick one story that provides an example to that feeling.  Someone you met.  A place you visited.  A favourite dinner.

That’s it!  Short.  Sweet.  But you get to say what was most important to you and share an anecdote to support it.  Your 2-minute questioner will be happy with your answer, understand a bit about a trip, and have a neat anecdote to tell others.  Go you!

Now what about the third person.  These are your spouse, parents, your best friend, the curious colleague…they really want to know.  And it’s so nice and so genuine.  But don’t make them suffer for this question either.  Make sure you’re prepared.  How?

1 – Think of what the trip really meant to you.  Unlike the 2-minute speech, this shouldn’t be preplanned.  Things will just flow.  But at least have had the time to think through what emotions and ideas and growth and thoughts that occurred so you can really talk through your trip.

2 – Reflect on the stories and memories that best capture your experiences.  At least for me, when someone genuinely wants to know, I start off telling one story but then realize I should be telling another…and by the end I’ve just rambled on for 20 minutes in some incoherent brain puzzle that even I can’t follow.  And my parents/spouse/best friend are sitting there lovingly.  But it isn’t fair to them PLUS I DO want to share with them about my trip.  Think through before your stories and experiences so that you have them fresh in your mind for when it’s time to share.

3 – Think about who your audience is.  If you’re speaking to someone who has been to the country/city/village where you travelled, there are things they already know.  You don’t need to “teach” them.  For these people, you can probably go into more detail.  Say things like “okay, do you remember the little tea shop on King Street.?  So there’s this restaurant beside it that I went to and…”  Let them be PART of your story.

4 – Go through your pictures before!  As much as they say that they do, no one wants to sit through 20 pictures of the SAME thing from a different angle because you have yet to edit your pictures before sharing.  Find the ones that mean the most to you, compile them, and THEN share your pictures!

5 – Finally, make sure you give this person the same audience they gave you!  It is wonderful to be able to share your experience upon returning.  Do them the same favour…and be that genuine listening ear!