The Post I Dreaded Writing

I need to tell you something, but I’ve been unsure how to do it, so I put it off for a long time. It requires delicacy and tact, which are not always my forte.

The Roommate Agreement came to an unfortunate, abrupt end in Iguazu Falls. For the record, we didn’t get into a fight where somebody pitched over the falls.  It was not due to some intolerable shower-singing incident or horrendous breach of swimsuit photography etiquette. It was far more serious than that.

Iguazu/Iguacu Falls

Roseitta nearly didn’t come on the trip at all, even though it was her idea. Her father was hospitalized days before we were due to depart and she debated cancelling and staying home.  It was a complicated, agonizing decision, but her family encouraged her to go ahead with the trip, and she did. We had both purchased trip cancellation and interruption insurance when we booked because none of our parents are spring chickens anymore, and on top of that you never know what’s going to transpire in your life when you book a trip nearly a year in advance.

We had a great week in Los Angeles, and there are many more tales of our adventures yet to come. Then we joined our tour group to begin our South American adventure. Rio was grand, from there we continued on to Iguazu. It was a long travel day, and when we got to the hotel, there was just enough time for a welcome drink (caipirinhas, naturally!) before dinner, which was a drawn-out buffet affair.

When we returned to our room, Roseitta called home to check in with her family as she had been doing regularly since we left. This time the tone of the conversation suddenly became grave. I moved to leave the room, but she motioned for me to stay. Instead, I tried to give her space by focusing on my work on the computer. It was obvious from her reaction to the phone call that things had taken a very bad turn. Eventually she explained that the doctors were now saying that her father’s prognosis had deteriorated dramatically and they no longer expected him to survive until we returned from Easter Island in nearly three weeks’ time. She stoically announced that she would need to go home as soon as possible.

It was already very late by this point, but we stayed up searching flight options. Every other gesture I could think to offer felt useless, so I handed over my computer for her to use. I suggested we call our tour director and let her handle the arrangements, but Roseitta didn’t want to bother her so late, and in hindsight I think she needed to work through things on her own first.

The next day Roseitta explained the situation to the tour leader and tour director at breakfast and the wheels were put in motion for her return home. There was nothing else to do at this point but continue with the day’s activities and hope for the best. Soon we were crossing the border into Argentina to see that side of the falls first. Iguazu Falls is astounding. It makes Niagara seem like Amateur hour, and I will definitely post about it at a later date. We were allowed to wander the trails overlooking the falls at our own pace.

As our group reconvened back at the meeting point, Roseitta’s phone rang.  The tour leader and I looked at each other with dread in our eyes as Roseitta answered the call. Within seconds we knew. Her dad had passed away.

Things got very emotional for awhile. Roseitta was naturally distraught, and I was hit with a barrage of different feelings at once: sorrow for her loss, frustration and disappointment that we didn’t get her home in time, a tiny bit of fear and apprehension over how I would cope continuing on without her, guilt for any part I might have played in taking her away from her family, disgust with myself for not knowing how to help my friend in her time of need, and sadness tinged with anger that the awesome trip that we’d planned was slipping away despite all the sacrifices it took to get there.

We composed ourselves and grabbed some empanadas for lunch. The arrangements for her trip home were starting to come together. In the meantime we were both a bit dazed, but tried to carry on normally. We boarded the tour bus and continued back toward Brazil and the other side of Iguazu Falls. On the way, word came through about Roseitta’s flights. She would be able to depart that afternoon. Once we crossed the border she and Marcela needed to return to the hotel to collect her things and go to the airport, so they left the bus while we continued on to see some of the most breathtaking scenery on the face of the earth.

And then she was gone.

Timey Wimey Stuff

Pretend you’re in the TARDIS, travelling with The Doctor to various points in space and time every day. That’s sort of how I write this blog (though my fantasy of running away with The Doctor has yet to manifest itself)


So yeah, I don’t post chronologically. I write stories when it feels right to tell them. It works out better that way. No, I’m not just saying that because I’m mildly obsessed with time travel.

At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil (and it feels so wrong to even mention him in the same post as my beloved Time Lord) this ain’t my first travel blog. My previous one was dreadful. In 2007 I went on a six-week professional exchange to England and attempted to blog about my experiences.  I didn’t really think of it as actual writing, but more as a daily diary. Blogging is time consuming and very quickly I got behind in chronicling my trip. I accumulated volumes and volumes of notes waiting to be written up. It got more overwhelming with every passing day. Not to mention the resulting blog posts were tedious and scarcely worth reading. Mercifully, I only ended up publishing about 10 of those missives before it all collapsed under the weight of chronology. The same thing happened when I went to Antarctica a few years earlier.

Nowadays I don’t attempt to keep travel journals, and I’m a far better writer than I used to be. My travel writing is not so much a succession of “and then I…”  as individual moments, which I write about when I’ m good and ready. That might be hours or minutes after some incredible experience, or months later once I’ve digested the nuanced insights from a trip.

Eventually it will all work out in a nonlinear, wibbly-wobbly way to form a complete picture. Until then, just go with it and enjoy the ride.


Image credit: AntToeKnee

Where Are We Going in South America?

South America is a big place. I’ve been fielding lots of questions about our trip itinerary, so I made this wee animation to give you an overview of the places that we are going. We’re not hitting all the destinations I would love to visit, but we’re certainly covering a lot of territory.

To see where we are at a given point in time, keep an eye on the Current Whereabouts map in the right sidebar.

skydiving - one giant leap

One Giant Leap

I just quit my dream job to travel. Whether I am being daring or reckless remains to be seen.

The Backstory

Almost two years ago an amazing job fell into my lap. Among my portfolio of clients, I had done some freelance copywriting for One day I followed up about the prospect of more assignments only to receive the reply, “We’re hiring a copywriter. Are you interested?” Inside of a week I went from being self-employed and not in the market for a job, to having a full-time position at one of Canada’s largest OTAs.

In many respects it is my dream job. I get to sit quietly and write about my favourite subject all day. I am paid a decent salary that I don’t have to chase after anyone to collect, and I seldom work overtime. I am a member of a great team with intelligent, fun people who brighten my days. As the contributing editor of their blog I get to write about whatever wacky shit I like and crack stupid jokes, and they love me for it. Yet something’s missing.

Easter Island
Easter Island – Photo by Nicky Hartnell

In January 2012 my friend Roseitta and I were out for dinner when from left field she tossed out the question “How would you like to go to Easter Island?” with a slightly forced nonchalance, as though she’d been saving this question for the right moment. Unbeknownst to her, when I was about 10 years old I had been mesmerized by the centrefold from my National Geographic World magazine, depicting the moai of Easter Island at twilight with eyes aglow in the moonlight. I had taken it out of the magazine and hung it on my bedroom wall. I can still visualize what it looked like. And so began our conspiracy to tour South America.

The Decision

To make a long story short, although I was originally told that the time off I needed for the trip wouldn’t be an issue, months later it became a very big deal. It boiled down to either cancelling the trip or quitting my job.

I’d like to claim that I saw the light straight away and knew the right path instantly. The truth is that I agonized over it a great deal.

I have had my eye on location independence for some time now. Although I enjoy my job at FlightNetwork, the one thing it lacks, and which has chafed me from the start, is the opportunity to travel and be master of my own schedule again. I have an unhealthy obsession with the amount of vacation days I have left. Previously my plan was to stay at FlightNetwork for another year and replenish my coffers after the trip while building up this blog and my freelancing business to the point where I could begin my career as a digital nomad in early 2014 with a trip to Australia.

weigh scale decision
Weighing the options – Photo by Haven’t the slightest

After much hand-wringing and deliberation I made my choice. Actually, I did know early on in my heart that the trip trumped any job, but I needed to reason my way into giving myself permission to do it. It is not easy to buck the trend and give up a good job while constantly being bombarded with messages about how scarce they are these days. My parents’ generation certainly don’t understand why anyone would turn their back on stable employment in favour of the uncertainty of self-employment (Dad’s advice was to apologize to my boss and wait until I retire to travel.) It took a long time to shake the notion that I am being irresponsible or selfish, and to fathom how my mortgage would continue to get paid despite a two-thirds reduction in household income.

Ultimately I realized that there was only one choice, and that is the path of least regret. Somewhere down the line I might come to regret leaving this great job, and this is by no means the easy choice, but I already know that I would regret passing up this trip. If I did, every time I had a bad day at the office my inner ten-year-old would scream “I gave up Easter Island for THIS?!?!” Eventually it would turn to resentment and before long it would not be my dream job anymore. Besides that, we’d already been planning the trip for months, and even taken some tango lessons. I’d saved mercilessly for the better part of a year, and every time I was tempted to spend money on something I wanted, I would utter the watchword “Easter Island” to myself and go without.

new chapter
A new chapter – Photo by Amanda Breann

A New Chapter

This all went down in August and September. Once I had made my decision I had to bide my time until I tendered my resignation. I knew things would get weird if gave too much notice, and I needed to work until the end of the year to save up some money. I continued to work as hard as ever and contribute ideas as though nothing had changed. I don’t think anyone caught on that my leaving was in the cards. The hardest part of all was not being able to talk about my trip anymore. I’m a very passionate person, and travel is my biggest passion. It was so difficult to keep this under wraps.

Finally, I gave them a month’s notice and the countdown began. Yesterday was my last day on the job. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.


Taking a giant leap - Photo by Dave Scriven
Taking a giant leap – Photo by Dave Scriven

Passports with Purpose

A few weeks ago I attended TEDx Milton and one of the speakers struck a chord with me. John Saunders is a paramedic and expert in Emergency Management who has been on site at many of the most horrific disasters in recent memory, including 9/11 and the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti. His overarching message was that although the world can be brutal, incomprehensible, and inhumane, that all of us must live with purpose and passion, persevere, and remember to be human.

One comment John made stayed with me long after the lecture, and that is his feeling of astonishment and glee whenever he returns home to Canada and can just walk up to a faucet, turn it on, and out flows clean, fresh, drinking water. “When I got home from Haiti, I giggled the first time I turned on the tap and knew I could drink that water.” Though my travels are tame by comparison, I have been in situations where water was scarce, and I hope I never lose that perspective and sense of gratitude.


Passports with Purpose

Back in June I was introduced to Passports with Purpose at the TBEX travel writers’ conference. Travel writing may not be as glamourous and carefree a vocation as the average person imagines it to be, but it is an enormous privilege to do this for a living. Passports with Purpose aims to channel some of the perks that we receive and use them to make a difference in the world.

Each year they organize a sweepstakes to benefit a charity. Individual bloggers arrange for a sponsor to donate a prize and they promote it on their blog. People then donate to Passports with Purpose and are entered into a draw to win one of the amazing prizes (I’m not exaggerating here. All the prizes are worth at least $100) with all of the proceeds going to the chosen cause.

This year Passports with Purpose is supporting, an organization that builds wells and creates infrastructure for delivering clean water and sanitation to areas that lack it. The funds raised through this campaign will be earmarked for Haiti.

My Prize

Ahem, my tendency toward procrastination being what it is, combined with the fact that my blog has only existed in earnest for a few weeks and therefore doesn’t have much sway yet, and my life being perpetually tumultuous, have led me to act as my own sponsor this year. I could have backed out and vowed to do better next year, but I chose to forge ahead and see what happens.

The prize I have chosen to contribute is a $100 Kiva Card!

The lucky winner who gets this prize will receive $100 in credit on the microfinance site which they can lend out to entrepreneurs in the developing world. Once the funds are repaid, they can be loaned out again and again.

water tapI had heard about Kiva here and there, but I finally made my first loan a couple of years ago thanks to the encouragement of people in my book club (shout out to my homies on Team BookCrossing!) I have enjoyed lending and re-lending the same $25 over that time. First it was to a bookseller in Central America, then to a wedding singer in Tajikistan to finance a new synthesizer, and now it is being used by a woman in Guatemala who runs a newsstand.

Some niggly details: The lucky winner will be required to have an account on — either an existing account or to register for one. Per Kiva policy, Kiva credit that has not been activated within 365 days will be considered a donation to Kiva. Although borrowers and funding partners are vetted by Kiva and few of them default on their loans, there is no guarantee that the funds you lend will be repaid.

I am stoked about this prize because it is a gift that gives twice or more. Your original contribution benefits and the people of Haiti, but the prize itself also benefits all of the individuals who are loaned the money in the future, and the communities that they live in (just imagine how much better wedding receptions are in Tajikistan now!) And the lucky winner gets the reward of picking the individuals and projects to whom the funds will be loaned!

What You Can Do

Make a donation to Passports with Purpose
-Share this post via social media, email, semaphore (kidding!) or whatever your preferred medium may be
-Promote Passports with Purpose to anyone you know who likes to win free travel and other goodies

Thanks for listening! We will return to our regularly scheduled geekalicious travel tales shortly. Remember to be human.

P.S. If your business is interested in partnering with A Nerd At Large for next year’s Passports with Purpose campaign, please get in touch.

What To Expect From A Nerd At Large

A Nerd At Large word cloud

Welcome to the very first post of my brand-spanking-new travel blog!

Rather than blather on at length about what the dickens this blog going to be about and all the entertaining mayhem you can look forward to, I made this snazzy word cloud to do the job. I hope you enjoy it and will watch this space for more.

Looking for something to do in the meantime? I’d love it if you’d follow A Nerd At Large on Twitter or subscribe to the A Nerd at Large Facebook fan page and participate in my journeys.