I’m baaaack….and how to write a book in six months

In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging for the past few weeks. I didn’t mean to give it up, it’s just that I had a major project that sucked all the creative juices out of me. It was my book. Yes, I wrote a book!

I can’t tell you how good it felt to fire that baby off to the publisher this weekend. What was supposed to be a year long project turned into a half year sprint. I conceived the idea on a lovely May weekend last year, pitched it the following week and immediately entered into negotiations with the publisher. Then the stall….

I didn’t sign the actual contract until the end of September, which means I didn’t begin writing said book until October. This was tough and looking back, very stupid of me. Most people write their book first, then pitch it to publishers. I like to do things the hard way, so I pitched the idea and then began writing it once I knew it was in the bag.

Still, I pretended I had the contract even when I didn’t. I planned my summer travel on the assumption I would get this deal, that I would eventually write about the destinations I was visiting. And it worked. I worked The Secret. (Cheesy, I know, but I’ve always wanted to write that sentence:)

My thought process behind the book was: this is going to be a slow year. Publishing is in the toilet. To survive, you’ve got to continue to branch out. Take this slack year and put it to use. Except that it wasn’t a slack year. I stopped pitching, but the offers kept coming. Good offers. Offers I couldn’t refuse, so I didn’t. I fit them in. I’ve worked more in these past few months than I ever have in my life. My fingers have been glued to my laptop every weekend, most weeknights and on every car ride when I wasn’t driving, you get the picture. It sucked.

What’s weird is now that the book is off my plate, I haven’t felt like I thought I’d feel. For sure I feel elated, but I actually felt that way a few weeks earlier, when I finished the first draft. I hate first drafts. I write the worst, crappiest dribbles of first drafts ever. Once the nut and bolts of each chapter was done and I began polishing the beast (close to 80,000 words!), it felt OK. It felt like this might not have been the biggest mistake ever.

I imagined that when I sent my book off to my publisher, I’d want to immediately celebrate – that I’d party the entire weekend and wouldn’t want to come near a computer screen. In reality, I screwed around catching up on the administrative tasks I’ve let slide over the past few weeks. Then I went to a spin class. Bizarrely, exercise is what I most wanted to do.

woman laughing

My daughter accidentally took this picture of me. I was feeling no stress!

I did celebrate the next day. I polished off a bottle of bubbly I’d earmarked for the occasion. (Thanks to the IBMer for the champers!) Then I slept and puttered and let the internet take me wherever I wanted to wander for two hours. I haven’t done that in so long. I had an extremely nonproductive weekend and it felt…wrong.

I’m actually eager to dive back into work. It’s not that I love work so much, it’s that I feel super keen to pound out those articles and projects I promised I’d tackle once my book was done. The treadmill never ends. The inbox never stays at 0. Your basic nature doesn’t change (I’m a doer.) I should’ve anticipated this.

Still, I accomplished something I never thought I had in me. I reached a goal and I managed to maintain a bit of a normal life in the process. I did give up a lot to write this book (mainly time with friends and family), but it also taught me what can be done in a short amount of time. Screwing around doing not much of anything this weekend made me realize I need to have things on my plate. Not necessarily work things, but things to keep me busy and happy.

Have you ever sacrificed something to accomplish a goal? How did you feel when you reached your goal?

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Travel with Confidence

Yesterday was quite a whirlwind. I was asked last minute (as always) to go on CBC News Network to talk about vacation rental properties. (An Ontario family recently shelled out $10,000 for a one week house rental in the Bahamas that turned out to be a dump.) I chatted with Diana Swain about how renters can better protect themselves. Many of the points I made, I included in yesterday’s blog post on: How to tell if the vacation home you rent is as advertised. Here’s the segment in case you’re interested in watching it:

Have you ever had a negative experience when booking a property online?

How to tell the vacation home you rent is as advertised

Have you ever rented a vacation property online? You can rent some really unique spaces, and staying in somebody else’s home allows you to live like locals, as opposed to vacationing in a (potentially) sterile hotel environment. It’s an intriguing prospect and yet many are wary, especially after hearing horror stories of homes not turning out as described. Here are my tips for how to best tell if the vacation property you rent is indeed as advertised.

Spidey Senses

With any online transaction, if you come across a red flag, you’ll want to heed that warning. Whenever your spidey sense starts to tingle, consider moving on. Try another site. Ask around. Here are a few red flags to be aware of:

Third party references

Just like when someone puts down a contact for a job reference, the person they refer isn’t likely to give a bad review. Putting your faith in third party references puts a lot of trust in the owners (who you don’t know). It’s unlikely the reference they’ve supplied is going to give anything less than a glowing recommendation.

Fake reviews

Unfortunately, not all vacation rental sites have solid verification methods to filter out fake reviews. Glib comments (‘best place ever!’) should be treated as suspicious. Likewise, disregard reviews that are both overly effusive and raving bad. The truth often lies somewhere in-between. Legitimate reviews should be at least a couple of sentences long with personal stories about how the reviewer enjoyed the property.


Always pay through secure methods. Credit cards give you the most security. Don’t pay by a method that isn’t endorsed by the site. Never send cash, cheques or instant money orders.

What to do instead

So how can you find a vacation home that is all it claims to be? Doing your own research is paramount. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Word of mouth. Use your social media networks and crowd source to get recommendations from those you trust.
  2. Arrange for a FaceTime call with the owner, so you can be walked through the property and can verify if it looks just as described. Be sure to ask for some screen time of the outdoors as well. Something advertised as ‘steps away from the beach’ could turn out to be miles.
  3. Compare reviews on multiple sites. Simply Google the address or the name of the property and then compare reviews on multiple booking sites.
  4. Book on a site that offers both the owner and the renter to review each other.
  5. Use a site that offers 24/7 customer service. Some sites will immediately help you find alternative accommodation in the area and will cover those associated costs.
  6. Opt for the additional insurance or rental guarantee policy if offered.

Using technology to book travel isn’t going away. Millions of bookings happen everyday and it’s rare to hear of horrible experiences. When this happens, it makes the local (and sometimes national) news. Fortunately technology is evolving to ensure the authenticity of both parties.

Have you ever rented a vacation property from an owner online? What was your experience like?

Recipe for a Perfect Evening: Classic Cocktails

Have you been out for cocktails lately? I don’t mean ordering a drink before dinner at a restaurant. I’m talking about dressing up and going out for cocktails at an atmospheric cocktail bar. I have to admit it had been awhile for me, but this spring I’m on a mission.

Fairmont Global Cocktail Program

The perfect cocktail is a balance between science and art. There’s almost an element of alchemy involved when sipping something where the spirits stand on their own and aren’t watered down. Going out for cocktails is an experience. It’s our anniversary this week, and true to form, I’ve started celebrating early.

female bartender

A blurry photo (on purpose!) of cocktail alchemy at the Fairmont Palliser

It’s Fairmont’s fault, actually. They’ve recently launched a global cocktail program. Elite mixologists from around the world have taken on the task of perfecting classic cocktail recipes. Being a questioner, I thought I’d best see if they could walk the talk. Do diligence and all that. 

Tom Collins

Sparkling Collins is just as refreshing as it looks

You know a drink at any Fairmont isn’t going to be ho hum. It’s going to be something special. At Calgary’s Fairmont Palliser I was reintroduced to an favourite of mine: Tom Collins. Their Sparkling Collins Royale is a delicious concoction made with Belvedere Vodka, Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label, sprigs of mint, slices of cucumber and splashed with fresh lemon juice. It’s the essence of spring in a glass. Did you notice there’s no gin in this Collins? No matter. It’s even more light and refreshing made this way.

Grant Sceney

That’s Grant Sceney presenting me with something purple and magical. I’m especially pleased with how the light captured his name tag.

Then last week we checked into Fairmont Pacific Rim, where I had the pleasure of meeting Grant Sceney, 2104 Canadian Bartender of the Year and rated fourth in the world. Sceney was one of the chosen bartenders to develop the Fairmont’s new cocktail menu focusing on the most requested classics, revived classics and “neats” for those who want to sip a premium spirit.

lemon drop cocktail

Check out the coaster at Fairmont Pacific Rim

Sipping our cocktails in the swish lobby bar felt so liberating. The pale late afternoon light streamed in through generous windows. You could feel spring begging to burst out. The afternoon soon morphed into the perfect evening. We feasted upon sushi from the Raw Bar and order a few more cocktails. Though we only spent a few hours in that luscious lounge, I left feeling as refreshed as you do after a satisfying weekend. If that isn’t reason enough to go out for cocktails I don’t know what is.

pharmacy bottles

(Photo credit: Jenelle Ball)

Have you ever gone to the drug store before your vacation, and stared helplessly at the over-the-counter travel medications and supplies? I know I have. Should I go for organic sunscreen or what’s on sale? Does that vaccine for traveller’s diarrhea really prevent you from getting the runs on your trip? I contacted Amani Chehade, a pharmacist and Associate- owner at Shoppers Drug Mart in Aspen Landing to get the scoop on what’s essential before your next trip. Be sure to share or comment on this post before March 25 and you could win a $100 gift card from Shoppers Drug Mart.

What’s the best medication to take for traveller’s diarrhea?

To prevent traveller’s diarrhea, you want to take good food and water precautions. When eating, follow the guidelines of peel it, cook it, boil it, but that doesn’t always work.

Dukoral is known as the vaccine to prevent traveller’s diarrhea. It’s an oral vaccine that works against Cholera and the e. Coli virus. It can be taken by anyone over 3-years-old, and is smart to take if you have low immunity or a chronic condition. It’s best taken at least 2 weeks before your departure.

Does Dukoral truly prevent you from getting diarrhea?

The e. Coli bacteria accounts for 50% of all traveller’s diarrhea. The main study showed the Dukoral vaccine to be around 60% effective.

fresh sage

(Photo credit: Matt Montgomery)

What if you end up getting traveller’s diarrhea. What are the best treatment options?

  1. Oral rehydrating solutions have the right mix of salt, sugar and potassium to replace lost fluids. Gastrolyte  is a popular brand for adults, while Pedialyte is recommended for children.
  2. Antibiotics such as Azithromycine, Ciprofloxacin and Rifaximin can be used to treat diarrhea.
  3. Loperamide which is Imodium, stops diarrhea. It can be purchased over the counter and used on those 3-years and older.

It’s kind of a pain to make a doctor’s appointment before your trip though….

Actually, many pharmacists at Shoppers Drug Mart have prescribing authority. Just tell them where you’re going and they can prescribe certain antibiotics and vaccines (like Dukoral for traveller’s diarrhea) based on your destination.

What about those over the counter travel meds past their expiry lurking in our bag?

Some products can be used up to 3 months after their expiry date, but it depends on the product. After the expiry date, the medicine loses its effectiveness and it may be no better than a placebo. (Jody rushes to her first-aid kit and throws out some very old Imodium and Children’s Tylenol with a 2008 expiry!)

Man and son on beach

Stay healthy and happy on your holiday. (Photo credit: Danielle McInnes)

What are some must have medications to pack for kids?

  • Gravel Kids for tykes over three-years-old
  • Oral rehydration packets or solution in case of vomiting or diarrhea
  • Topical cortisone cream to treat bug bites
  • Sunscreen
  • Stool softener – Lax-A-Day is one brand that safely helps constipated kids
  • Band-aids
  • Fever and pain medication such as Children’s Advil or Tylenol
  • Antihistamines
  • Thermometer
  • Saline nasal drops in case of congestion (Kids under 6-years can’t take decongestants.)

Pack their regular medication (for asthma, ADHD, etc…), and be sure to have both the brand and generic name, dosage and prescription from the doctor in your carry-on bag. (You can get a copy of the prescription from your pharmacist.) Best is to get a letter with all this information from your doctor, including the reason your child is taking the medication. Keep the medications in its original containers.

(Check out Jody’s top tips for avoiding jet lag and tummy troubles here.)

ant on plant

Do creepy crawlies freak you out on your holiday? (Photo credit: David Higgins)

Do you worry about putting chemicals like DEET on children?

I  don’t worry about this. I feel comfortable putting it on my own kids. The side effects are rare – mostly eye irritations. In over 30 years with a billion users, there’s only been about 30 cases of toxicity. Most of these used excessive amounts over a prolonged period of time.

There are DEET concentrations made especially for children. In Canada the concentration level is 10%, whereas in the U.S. it’s 30%. Canadians would have to apply the insect repellent more often as it only offers 2 to 4 hours protection, but you get up to 8 hours with the American kind.

A good alternative to DEET are bug sprays containing Icaridin (like Avon Skin So Soft). You can buy Icaridin products over the counter and they smell much nicer than DEET.

early morning sun

The sun is stronger than you think! (Photo credit: Jack Givens)

What should I look for in an organic sunscreen?

If going the organic route, best are products with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These provide physical barriers (as opposed to chemical barriers), but they also offer UVA and UVB protection. It should be noted the UVA protection in organic sunscreens isn’t as effective as what you’d find in a traditional one.

If buying chemical sunscreen, look for one with avobenzone and mexoryl as ingredients. These are safer ingredients compared to the other chemicals found in non-organic sunscreens. Some of the best sunscreens are made by LaRoche-Posay.

What’s the best treatment for sunburn?

If it’s a mild sunburn, place a cold towel over the spot for 15 minutes. Moisturize the area with a lotion that has aloe vera or soy in it. Don’t use Vaseline or thick ointments. They trap in the heat.

For pain, Ibuprofen (Advil) works as an anti-inflammatory. Seek medical attention for serious sunburns.

I’m often irritated by bug bites, any advice on how to take the sting away?

If you’re travelling to an area where you know there are bugs (and you react to bites), take Claritin once daily as a preventative measure. After you’ve been bitten, use Benadryl to reduce itchiness. It’ll make you drowsy, but it works. Put a cool compresses on the area and apply calamine lotion. You can also use hydrocortisone cream topically. If the bug bite becomes infected, check with a pharmacist or doctor to determine if you need an antibiotic cream or if Polysporin is enough.

Thank you Amani Chehade and to Shoppers Drug Mart for offering one lucky Travel with Baggage reader a $100 gift card. Simply comment below and let me know what medications you travel with, or if you’ve ever taken the Dukoral vaccine. You can also share this post on Twitter or Facebook. Just be sure to tag me, so I can record your entry. (Twitter: @Jody_Robbins and facebook.com/TravelswithBaggage). All shares and comments must be received by midnight, April 1, 2016.

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