Filed under: Travel Swellness

Travel Swellness: #GoodTimesOutside camping adventures

 Killbear fam pic

Earlier this summer, MEC and I chatted about ways to enjoy #goodtimesoutside this season, and I know camping came to mind first for me. I’ve been interested in trying it for a few years but the whole idea is daunting when you’ve never done it (other than as a Brownie once). Would I be able to pitch the tent? I had visions of me getting all tangled in the fabric I Love Lucy-styles. Would I go hungry or even be able to start a fire? 

Thankfully, I was able to round up some friends who have camped and were willing to show me the ropes. We booked the campsites (Rondeau Provincial Park  with my friend Ally, and Killbear Provincial Park with my pals Anya, Arthur, and their dog Bun) and leading up to my first camping trip, I pestered my friend Ally with question after question: Where do we do dishes and how? Where do we plug things in? There will be washrooms and showers, right? I knew well enough that for my first forays into camping, car camping would be the best. No portaging for this first timer.

Killbear camping with BJ

Before we went on our camping trip, I had a quick chat with MEC engagement coordinator, Dennis (he’s an avid camper), and learned a few key tips (I also read a few articles online) and before I knew it, the camping weekends were upon us.

Killbear hiking

Here are six things I learned from my first camping trips this summer:

1. Camping is a great way to disconnect from city life. I feel like I came to loving the outdoors late in life. But now, I love being in nature. When I travel, I try to include visiting a garden or park or go for a hike, and when at home, I take my dog, Billie Jean, for walks by Lake Ontario, hike whenever I can wrangle a friend with a car (including visiting waterfalls in Hamilton) so it’s not surprising I enjoyed this aspect of camping.

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And I’m so lucky because my camping trip to Rondeau happened to be the weekend of the Perseid meteor shower. It was so magical to be lying in the dark in the fresh air and seeing so many shooting stars. Ally got some fantastic photos (you should follow her on Instagram for more of her travel photos:  @allycarlson).

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That said, I love nature but I do not love insects. I lucked out on both trips with the mosquitoes and blackflies not being much of an issue. In fact, I barely noticed any at Killbear on our trip in August. And I had minimal interactions with spiders and other buggy creatures. Phew!

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2. Camping calls for a lot of gear. A lot. I don’t know if there’s a way around this. Could I pack lighter? Let me know, avid campers! Both times I started packing and thought, “Oh, it’s not so bad,” but inevitably there’s always so much to bring! From all your cooking tools and food to your tent and sleeping gear, it just piles up. Thankfully, with gear that packs up efficiently (my six-person tent compacts into a bag not much bigger than a rolled-up yoga mat — bonus, it was pretty simple to set up!) and with this awesome MEC Scully 100 duffel bag (which is waterproof) that you can stash smaller pieces into (making packing up your car so much quicker, the task of packing for camp is less daunting. Having all of the right gear can make a world of difference, says Dennis.

3. Make a detailed camping checklist for groceries and supplies. This was actually the first tip Dennis shared with me. “To minimize forgetfullness,” he says, admitting that he once ventured out camping and realized when he arrived he’d forgotten his sleeping bag. My friends and I made a detailed spreadsheet, planned out our meals, and outlined who was responsible for what…and this worked out well, except I didn’t go through the list on my computer carefully enough for Killbear as I forgot to pack garbage bags! Doh! So make a list, and check it twice.

4. Camping without electricity isn’t so bad. Being a camping newbie, I was adamant that our campsites have electricity. But at Killbear, there were no sites with electricity available so we booked a non-electric one. And I realized I didn’t really need it. I charged several portable battery packs in advance of the trip (to charge my phone and lantern), and with a borrowed hand pump, we filled a Casper air mattress (which I had filled with an electric pump at Rondeau), but I actually found a thin sleeping mat from MEC quite comfortable (and much more compact and much less work to fill with air), so I would consider a non-electric campsite again. If I got desperate for an outlet, I noticed outlets in washrooms where a few people were charging their phones

 5. Bring games, activities and music. Dennis suggested bringing cards and camp games so you have some entertainment at your campsite. We brought dominoes, playing cards and another card-based game and it was a fun daytime activity when we were just hanging out at the campsite  The music he recommended both for entertainment but also so that you have some noise going to alert animals like bears of your presence.

 Camping breakfast

6. Camp meals are the best meals. We ate like champs on both trips. Steak and eggs for breakfast. Easy snacks for lunch since we were usually on the beach or out hiking, and usually one fun dinner. We made veggie quesadilla (one of Dennis’s fave camping meals so we took his idea for this dinner!) and with some stellar guacamole, we were literally happy campers. I read up on camping food before our trips and it recommended pre-slicing all of your veggies and it made cooking so much easier. We cooked both on a camping stove and over the campfire and I’d assumed all of our cooking would be on the campfire but I learned that it’s often easier to use a stove. But a must, as I learned, for the campfire? Spider dogs! 

 spider dogs

I think I’m now a camping fanatic. Not sure if I’m game for backcountry camping just yet, but I definitely see lots of car camping in my future. Billie Jean adores it, too! Thanks for helping to gear me up for a new way for #goodtimesoutside this summer, MEC!

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Leave a Comment September 18, 2017

Travel Swellness: Camping with the Cadillac Escalade

Escalade for camping weekend

A couple of weeks ago, I went camping for the second time this summer and thanks to Cadillac Canada, I got to test drive a Cadillac Escalade for the trip.

Escalade in Killbear Provincial Park

It’s actually the first time I’ve driven an Escalade, and I was pretty stoked about it. Actually, I was pretty stoked right up until I got in the car and realized how enormous it is. As I’ve only been in an Escalade a handful of times as a passenger, I didn’t realize there are two rows of seats behind the driver, and just how much more massive it is than the other SUVs I’ve been driving (like the Chevy Equinox, GMC Acadia and Buick Envision). How big is it? I didn’t even have to do anything (such as wave to ask them to let me go through) and drivers readily made room for the Escalade so I could get by; people in my neighbourhood could see how this vehicle was not going to make it through the narrow two-way street I live on.

Escalade with Bun and Billie Jean

I was pretty intimidated and nervous behind the wheel at first, and especially so when parking underground (where space is tight and there’s all sorts of columns to maneuver around). I did eventually feel more comfortable driving it once we were out of the city (where traffic was less hectic).

The things I came to like about the Escalade as I drove it and had it for our camping weekend?

  • While you may not think of an Escalade and camping as going hand in hand, camping calls for so much gear, and we were three people and two dogs, and once we put the last row of seats down, we were able to easily fit all of the piles of gear and food. And we were all seated comfortably even with all of our supplies, which was great as we ran into traffic heading out of the city making for a long time in the car.
  • The sharp lines and boxiness of the car; I’ve always been more partial to more boxy cars versus ones with more curves to its silhouette. So aesthetically, it resonates with me.
  • Our Escalade colour, the Crystal White Tricoat, is a gorgeous, almost pearly, white.
  • The luxe, buttery interior. I  jokingly told my friend it made our camping trip into a glamping trip. Also, because it is so spacious, in an emergency, we could all sleep in the vehicle if we came across a bear.
  • The head’s up display on the car’s windshield. Not having to glance at the screen but having my speed and the GPS directions on the windshield (the head’s up display is when this info is projected onto a film on the windshield) so that I can keep my eye on the road is very helpful. I especially found it helpful in the Escalade because I found you could easily be driving quite fast without it feeling like you’re speeding. Being able to have my speed in front of me on this display helped me stay within the speed limit.

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So while the size was intimidating to me, the vehicle did turn out to be a great option for our weekend in the wilderness at Killbear Provincial Park. And I will say, the size of the car and how smoothly it drove did make me feel safe.

As for how camping itself went, I’ll be blogging about that soon. Spoiler alert: we (thankfully) didn’t encounter any bears.

Escaled with Billie Jean chilling

Leave a Comment September 6, 2017

Travel Swellness: Q&A with the women behind The June Motel in Prince Edward County

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Last year sometime, a super cute motel room in Prince Edward County showed up in my Instagram feed, and I was instantly interested in it because it was so pretty and I’m a huge fan of the County. Reading the comments and clicking around Instagram, I realized that the motel was something someone I knew was working on. I first met April Brown, one of the owners of The June Motel, when she used to work in PR in Toronto. One of her accounts was Nike so we spent more than a few mornings working out at Nike Training Club classes together.
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I immediately messaged her to find out what was going on. I knew she had left PR, and I’d seen she’d done some traveling. But owning a motel with your best friend? This sounded too awesome, and I’ve essentially been hounding her with questions pretty regularly in the months since then. Because how do two 30-something women with no motel experience (April’s parter in The June, Sarah Sklash, worked for the government) do a 180 with their lives by buying the old Sportsman Motel and transforming it into one of the hottest places to stay  in the very hot Prince Edward County? And more importantly, how can I do the same? Yes, I think why it so fascinated me is that I often dream about ditching city life and starting something brand new than the grind I’ve been doing for many years.
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I had the chance to stay at The June Motel a couple of months ago (in both the Deluxe Wine Studio and the Rose Room), not long after the officially opened, and it’s even better than I’d seen online.
The June Motel lobby
Firstly, I need that leather couch in the wine bar. Secondly, I need to learn how to keep a plant alive so I can incorporate some big leafy plants at home, too. Thirdly, and most importantly, I need to move to a idyllic little wine country spot! Half-joking aside, the rooms and the wine bar are gorgeous, and April and Sarah are such lovely motelier hosts. It’s thanks to them that we discovered the Perfect Lil Bakeshop and Lighthall Winery (you can read more about that trip on the blog here). But it’s also thanks to April that I ran up the brutal hill to get to the Lake on the Mountain, but I suppose I forgive her for that (N.B. The hill up Chuckery Hill Road from the motel is a very, very tough one, but it flattens out and the lake view is a gorgeous reward). As you can see, I got over that tough run pretty quickly as I basked in the very pretty Rose Room:
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I grabbed April and Sarah–who have been besties for the past 14 years since meeting in a sorority at the University of Western Ontario–to find out more about the new lives in Picton as moteliers.
So how did this new career as moteliers come about?
April: Sarah and I were looking for that next chapter in both our careers and personal lives. The daily grind in Toronto was no longer as fulfilling as it once was when we were in our early 20s. We started to dream about having something of our own, a new creative outlet. Meanwhile, Sarah and I had been coming out to Prince Edward County with our friends for years. Her and her boyfriend had recently bought a cottage in the area, so we had seen first-hand how it’d grown in popularity year-over-year. There was a little fate in how it all worked out as well. This motel had merely come up in
conversation, but we instantly thought “we should buy that motel”. We drove out to look at the motel one week later, two months later put in an offer and less than six months from that initial conversation, we moved into the dingy roadside motel that it once was. When we bought in 2016, it was just becoming the new hot spot . Despite the popularity of the area, everyone seemed to struggle to find a place to stay. We ourselves had struggled on several occasions, so the we knew the demand was there. Purchasing a vintage roadside motel introduced us to a whole new world. We were suddenly challenged in new ways, and we had endless opportunity to be creative in how we transformed not only the look and feel of the place, but the entire experience of staying at a motel.
What caught your eye about the Sportsman Motel and what was the vision you had for it?
Sarah: We knew there was a market for accommodation in the County. We’d seen it grow over the last five years, and we ourselves had struggled to find a place to stay. We wanted to create something that was boutique and provided a well-curated experience that appealed to millennial travelers. We’re focused on good wine and good vibes, because it’s all about balance. It’s about getting out of the city, breathing in the fresh country air and exploring. But also about indulging and treating yourself to good wine and good food with good friends. We saw something special in the Sportsman Motel, because we’d travelled to places like Palm Springs, California, etc. where the motel revival is a serious thing. With this property in particular, nothing was structural, it was mainly cosmetic changes that were required to see our vision through!
Where does the motel name, The June Motel, come from?
April: It was a name we loved for it’s retro appeal and summery vibe. It’s meant to remind you of that school’s out, first day of summer feeling.
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The June is beautiful; you’ve done such a great job with it. Can you share more about what inspired the design and what your favourite space is in the motel?
Sarah:  This is a tough one! I think The Classic room is my favourite. It’s exactly that, classic. It was also the first space we designed, so really set the tone for the rest of the property. I think the biggest piece of inspiration if you will, is the palm print wallpaper in this room. We came across it flipping through wallpaper books at the local paint store, and we instantly fell for it. From then on, it was all about what flowed with that wallpapers.
I’m sure you get a lot of people (myself included) who are envious of your new life in the County! But I’m sure it is also tough. Anything you found surprising or really unexpected when it comes to the business?
April: When I started this, Sarah had to teach me how to use a drill. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly the handy kind of woman, and I struggled a lot with how I was going to be capable of all this. I think as women, it’s sometimes hard to believe that we’ve got the strength and ability to renovate something on our own. In the end, it’s so empowering to realize you can do it. We tiled our own lobby floor, we floored all the rooms, learned how to wallpaper and paint, managed electricians and other contractors, and did a million other things I never dreamed I’d be doing.
What’s been the biggest adjustment for living in PEC? I know you both still come into Toronto pretty regularly and keep your apartments here in the city.
April: For us, it’s about designing the life we want. That life includes a lot of time in the County and a little city time
as well. I love running the County roads and going to the beach on a Tuesday. However, I love getting dressed up and going out for dinner in the city with my girlfriends. The best part of this gig is that we don’t have to chose between the two worlds. In the winter we’ll close down for a few months and fulfill our wanderlust. We’ve got our sights on India this January for a yoga teacher training course!
I feel like more and more people are investing in properties as an Airbnb but you two dove right in with motel! Any advice for people considering either?
April: I think Airbnb is the perfect place to dip your toes in hospitality, and is relatively risk free. It’s inspiring to see so many young people buying property and creating really unique Airbnb accommodations out here. That said, we were looking for something bigger, with more opportunity. Essentially we were looking for a new life adventure.
What else do your have in the works for The June?
Sarah:  For us, it’s about appealing to the millennial traveler who’s looking for a personalized, curated experience. We do a few things to make that come to life for our guests. One is a breakfast in bed service where we’ll deliver a platter of
freshly baked scones, chia puddings and fresh pressed juices to your room in the morning. We also do a Detox & Retox yoga program. Every Saturday morning in the summer we hold an outdoor yoga class that ends with a mimosa in our
Lobby Bar. Again, it’s all about balance! Lastly, we just launched Text Message Concierge. Our guests can now text us for everything from towels to local recommendations for where to eat and drink in the County. Finally, I think our check-in process is really informal and special at the same time. We pour each of our guests a welcome drink and chat with them about their plans for the next few days. We’ve usually go the wine map out, helping them navigate their way around to the best spots! We like to say that staying with us is a lot like staying with a friend, one who knows all the hot spots!
Fave part of being motelier? Least fave?
April: Fave part… creating new experiences and designing new spaces. I love seeing something old and forgotten become new and beautiful!
Sarah: I love catching glimpses of guests creating their own travel memories.
April: Least fave? Garbage duty… it’s the least sexy part of motelier life.
Sarah: Ditto.
What’s your fave thing to do in the County on your day off?
April: A beach night. I love packing-up a picnic and heading to a hidden beach with my friends and a bottle of wine in tow. The sunsets here are epic!
Want to drink rose all day in Prince Edward County and stay at The June? I know I do! Here’s where you can make a reservation. (Plus, you can check out my articles about PEC over at Travel & Style and AmongMen, and my blog post about a dog-friendly trip to the County here.)
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Photography (April & Sarah, Deluxe Wine Studio and the Classic Room), Lauren Miller, courtesy of The June Motel.

Leave a Comment August 22, 2017

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