How Studying Abroad Inspires a Soul

How Studying Abroad Inspires a Soul

Have you ever looked at pictures of a place or heard someone talk about their most recent destination and thought, "Wow, I just really want to go!"? I was sitting in an English literature class and the professor had two students come in to talk about their recent creative writing and hiking study abroad in the south of England, and I had one of those moments.

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6 Tips to Settle Into a New City

6 Tips to Settle Into a New City

Moving is never easy. Moving cities or continents is even harder. As someone who grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone, London was a whole new ball game. I remember standing on the pavement watching the people pouring in and out of the station, like the life veins of the city, jostling and striding and all with somewhere to be and someone to see.

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My Father's Daughter

My Father's Daughter

Prior to moving to Italy, I would not have described myself as adventure seeking. A high achieving rule follower with a desire to please was more my gig. Until it wasn’t. When my hard work went unacknowledged or my love unreturned, my mind, heart, and body grew restless. I broke every rule in the name of love, making irreparable mistakes at the expense of others.

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The Forest: A Place of Knowing

The Forest: A Place of Knowing

Stepping onto the path, breathing deep, and feeling the rush of soil, green, and bark. Nature is our greatest teacher. Personally, I find myself connecting with Nature on a deeper level each time I enter a forest, more than any other ecosystem. I grew up traipsing through the forests of Western Pennsylvania, surrounded by oaks and hemlocks. Since then, I found myself living in different parts of the country. Each time, I find a forest.

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Unbreakable Courage in the Midst of War

Words by Cassandra Lee // Images by Echo and Earl, Shreves Photography

It was getting late in a small, remote village in Eastern Congo. Tucked away in the corner of a small wooden house, I climbed into my sleeping bag on top of the cold concrete floor. As I reached for my head lamp, I could vaguely make out the silhouettes of bodies moving swiftly about the room – two Congolese women had walked in to say goodnight. We started chatting. We shared about our respective days, our plans for the morning, and finally I asked them about the current security situation of the village. The following question released a torrent of verbal processing.

“How is the security for women in this village?” 

The women gave me a quick history lesson of the conflict in this area: two decades of war; frequent displacement from their homes and village; and seeking refuge in the forest to avoid capture. Some, they told me, even witnessed the ruthless killings or rape of their children and other family members.

“When night falls, you take what you can carry and run to the forest. You do not want to be in your home when the soldiers arrive. They will take everything and spare no one.”

As the women continue to share, I’m amazed at how offhandedly they speak about the struggles of living in a war zone. There are no tears even as they recount their traumas. They speak casually, like it’s a normal thing. At one point, they even laugh when I ask how many women have been raped.

“Everyone is raped here…”


“Most of the women are raped. When women are alone, they are fearful. You go to the field to work and when you walk alone, you could be raped. When you are working, you could be raped. It is not good to go anywhere alone. If you are in a group, only then you might avoid being raped.”

As a Canadian-born woman, I think of how often I take my independence for granted. I’m free to go shopping or pick up groceries by myself, drive myself to work, or do any number of other activities and the thought of being raped rarely, if ever, enters my mind. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s a different story. 

For years now, Eastern Congo has been known as the rape capital of the world – two in five women are victims of rape and sexual assault. Put another way, there are approximately 1,152 women raped each day. That translates to 48 women per hour. Just imagine if that was the statistical reality in your home town!

In the remote villages of Eastern Congo, the issue is often more pronounced than even the large population centers. In the village we work in, rape is a very real and constant threat. 

“Women can’t speak of these things to anyone. If they tell their husbands, their husbands will leave them. If they tell their friends, they will be shamed. In Congo, they say a woman who has been raped is dirty.”

“So how do you know if so many women are really being raped?”

They laughed again. 

“We know.”

While listening to these stories, it occurred to me that having these candid conversations of rape told under the cover of darkness provided women with a safe space to freely share about their difficult experiences.

My mind raced as I searched for possible interventions.

What if we could go back in time to prevent these terrible acts of sexual violence from ever happening in the first place? What if we could remove the social stigma of being a rape victim? 

We may not be able to change the past, but we can begin to act so that future generations don’t have to experience the same atrocities.

What I’ve learned over time is that education can help change future outcomes. The terrible things that happened in the past don’t have to dictate what happens in the generations to come. Through education, we can teach the next generation, both boys and girls, about human dignity, mutual respect, and healthy conflict resolution. For children who have endured profound trauma, access to schools provides them a safe place to receive much needed psychosocial care to restore healing and wholeness.

When these education-based interventions are in place, it can reduce sexual violence and decrease the number of girls being taken as child brides by up to six times! For young boys, education provides good alternatives to joining extremist causes, giving adolescent boys renewed hope for a future.

Even though my conversation with the two women broke my heart, and though it was painful to imagine what goes on in their war-torn village, amazingly, I was able to walk away from that conversation feeling hopeful. I realized that we don’t have to remain powerless and sit on the sidelines – we can be moved into action.

These incredible women, with their remarkable resilience and strength, are working to see a change in their community. If only by having the courage to speak out, they are fighting to transform their community. I, for one, am emboldened to do the same. 

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Cassandra Lee is the co-founder of Justice Rising. She has over 10 years of experience living and working in conflict areas, including the Middle East, Central and East Africa, and North Korea. Currently, Cassandra works primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo building schools in war-affected communities. She recently married, and travels with her husband between the DRC and Los Angeles, CA.

Strength | Congo | Rape | Courage

Changing Life's Direction

Words & Images by Alaina Isbouts

One day, I took a look around my life and realized I wasn't crazy about what I saw. My parents had each gone through their second divorces, messy and painful. Yet another break up with my on-again-off-again boyfriend at the time had me questioning love, marriage, and the idea of commitment. My grandfather had recently passed away, which left me feeling raw. I was turned down for an internship I had been sure I was destined to land, which I thought would be a jumping off point for my career and a perfect excuse to move to the city of my dreams. I felt myself drifting. I was floundering, lost, treading water — and I knew it. 

I was in this funk one day at work when I saw an ad soliciting applications for a study abroad program. I was in my junior year at the University of Colorado and had already done more than my fair share of jumping around. But after a few clicks, I was enthralled. It was June, and I could feel it in my bones that I was meant to spend the upcoming semester in Prague. Winter would be the first full semester the program would be sending students to the Anglo-American University, and they wanted more. 

I wanted more.

So, I filled out an online application. A few weeks later I got a call saying I had been accepted. It was as simple as that. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags and leaving my apartment behind, explaining to my parents and my now-reconciled-with boyfriend that this was something I needed to do for me. And as summer came to a end, I arrived in Prague with little more than clothes, my camera, and my laptop. It was one of the most liberating experiences I've ever had. My parents weren't there to fall back on. I had no friends. And, most pronounced to me, I had no idea where I was. It was up to me to forge friendships and figure it all out in my new city.

Within a few weeks, I'd made a small group of close-knit friends. I'd met the man I'd end up marrying. I had also determined there was no way I was going to be ready to go back home at the end of my semester. I knew it meant moving out of my apartment and changing arrangements with my university. But I could feel myself growing and changing and knew that whatever it was I was going through wouldn't be finished by the end of the year. 

For the first time in my life, I felt as if I could be my own person. Surrounded by strangers, I was totally myself. I was immersed in a culture I knew little about before booking my flight, finding my footing on my own. It felt as if someone had thrown me into the water for the first time in my life, only for me to learn I was part fish. I felt at home in my new country and culture, and found I was at my best and most comfortable when pushed out of my comfort zone, eating new foods and learning new languages. School holidays were spent backpacking through Italy, Denmark and Sweden; I got engaged in the middle of Barcelona’s airport during spring break; we went wine tasting in Moravia, and road tripped through Eastern Europe. My time in Prague forced me to be independent in ways I’d never known, and gave me the confidence in myself and my decisions I had always needed. It ignited a passion for travel and a curiosity of other cultures I’d never known I always harbored. 

I’ve racked my brain trying to think of concerns I had or hard lessons I learned, or things I wish I’d done differently. But the truth is that I can’t think of any. Of course, there were some hard times. A man followed me around a market and then onto a bus, which was alarming. I was pickpocketed. I had a few moments of doubt. However, I’ve realized these are all things I could easily have experienced while in the States, and I would have missed out on the greatest adventure in my life so far. 

So, if you’re stuck, or thinking of jumping, or wondering whether or not you should make that big move, I have this to say to you: GO. Do it. Take the risk. If it doesn’t work, you can always back track. You move to a new place and you hate it? You can always move again. Life is about fluid movement and growth. You’re not going to get anywhere by standing still.

Alaina is a freelance writer and editor, recovering vegetarian, compulsive spaghetti-eater and a hockey fanatic. You can find her and her husband at an airport usually. When she's not traveling, you can find her at home in Denver, cuddling her two boys or binge watching The Americans.

Finding Yourself | Relationships | Travel | Adventure

How I Made Fear Fashionable

Fear | Fashion | Anxiety | Mental Health

Words by Morgan Cohn

For most of my life, anxiety has kept me in a box. It has told me where to go, who to talk to, how to dress, and even how to act. Being self-aware of my ‘condition’ was something that both frustrated and empowered me, but for the most part, it downright debilitated me.

I felt trapped. Maybe I WAS trapped. I was ashamed of the days when I couldn’t go out for fear of absolutely nothing. I was constantly worried about how I would be perceived if I didn’t maintain my bubbly personality throughout the day.

That was fine for a while, aka 24 years of my life, but then I went to Paris. I got to go to Fashion Week. Real. Life. FASHION WEEK. This had always been a dream of mine, but I never felt confident enough to take the plunge. Luckily, I had an amazing person by my side literally nudging me forward, regardless of how I felt. I ran around taking pictures, sneaking my way into shows, and then even getting invited into one!

Though it seemed trivial back then, at that moment, I now realize that passion was helping me overcome my anxiety. I would have never approached other people to take their pictures. I would have never confidently stood in a line I knew I didn’t belong in. But for some reason, the fuel to learn and to know more about the fashion industry changed my mind.

From that trip, my eagerness evolved from a passion into a business. I was able to post my experiences, clothes, trips, you name it, on a site that I had created months before, but was too scared to actually put much thought into. I made sure to take a lot of photos on the days my anxiety was reduced, to soak up as much as possible, so that when I was having a particularly difficult day, I could still post. Some may say this was me hiding behind my computer screen and putting up a façade, but for me, it was sharing my happiest and best moments in order to remember why I push through my anxiety on a daily basis.

Though I still struggle with anxiety regularly (I was diagnosed with GAD a couple years ago) I also started a blog, moved to a new city, started over… so many things I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for me realizing my passion.

Something I had to realize throughout this process was that my singular moment was not a silver bullet. It didn’t change my life or get rid of all of those miserable feelings. What it DID do was allow me to realize that I had something worth fighting for, and fight I did, and continue to do.

I hope to do so much with my life, but attending that one show, snapping that one photo, writing down my thoughts and sharing my photos on an online platform, have all helped me to realize that I am capable of just about anything.

No really, we are all capable of ANYTHING, as long as you believe in and fight for your passion.

Morgan spends much of her time enjoying the sunny outdoors of San Diego, and will never pass up the opportunity to buy fresh flowers. She has worked as a social media designer and event planner for much of her career, and hopes to continue to do so in the future. 

Book Two: Out of the Embers... A Spirit Anew

World Travel | Marriage | Adventure

Words & Images by Tatiana Ciccarelli

Can a city have a spirit? I think so. Just like people, cities breathe, pulse, vibrate. They have their quirks, their dark corners, their talents and appeal. They have their best known qualities, and what make them unique. Some parts are old, and some are born again. Cities are like people.

This past summer, after four years of what could only be described as Book One: Trial by Fire, my husband and I finally rose from the embers scarred, but stronger. We had packed up the past into a box, and catapulted it, as well as its pain and hardships, far behind us. Our spirits were lifted and the tide had finally changed. So, what better way to celebrate the light, and levity, that had entered our lives then to pack our bags and hit the road, sky, and rails. Europe was calling, and our new eyes couldn’t wait to see things we might have missed before. 

Being an event coordinator, I arranged our itinerary: a 15-day journey from France, circumnavigating the Mediterranean, and back. We left from Newark Liberty and arrived at Charles De Gaulle on a sunny and crisp August morning. Paris is on the same parallel as Montreal and so, unlike the sauna that is New York in August, Paris in August has a welcomed hint of fall. Anxious to get underway, we dropped our bags at our first of many hotels, Hotel Eiffel Trocadero, and called an Uber. That day we strolled through the perfectly manicured Luxembourg Gardens. At night, a most memorable meal at Les Chouettes in the chic Marais arrondissement had us feeling relaxed and well-fed. 

The following day we checked into the ultra-lux Grand Hotel Du Palais Royal in the 1st arrondissement. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a hotel snob, and The Grand Palais did not disappoint. It’s well-appointed rooms came with a walk in closet, grand bed, turn down service, small terrace, large bathroom, etc; all the creature comforts of a 5-star hotel right across the street from the Louvre. There is no feeling more satisfying than sipping your morning coffee on a terrace overlooking the Louvre in a comfy robe with nowhere to be. Bliss.

The next two days we played tourist, visiting the Chateau of Versailles and the Louvre. It was my husband’s first time to France and I wanted him to see the landmarks in this first leg of the trip. 

On our fourth day we checked out of The Grand Palais and made our way to Gare Lyon for the three hour train ride to Aix en Provence. Our hotel, Le Pigonnet, was what pastel-colored Provencial dreams are made of. The next day we departed for the port city of Marseille and our eight day cruise on the MSC Preziosa. 

The cruise itself was a bit lack-luster. Still, being the flexible New Yorkers that we are, we managed to enjoy it and took advantage of the excursions offered. Our itinerary had us sailing for Portofino and Rome (Italy), Palermo (Sicily), Valletta (Malta), and Valencia (Spain). Each port had its own unique adventures, each city its own spirit. We went from navigating the brightly colored streets of Portofino to exploring the old-meets-new architecture of Valencia. I lived in Rome once upon a time, and enjoyed taking my husband to hidden piazzas and neighborhoods only a local would know. 

After the cruise we once again headed back to Provence, this time staying at Le Mas d’Entremont. If there is such a thing as higher than five stars, I’d give this property six. The quiet seclusion, Restoration Hardware-styled villas, and sprawling grounds already bumped it into my top five all-time favorites. But a sunset dinner, under a large oak tree illuminated with candles and lanterns, turned the stay into a life-long memory. After our whirlwind cruise, we were finally able to slowdown and reconnect in a beautiful place, eat an unhurried meal, and enjoy the sounds of summer in Provence. 

Finally, we headed back to Paris and rounded out our trip with a stay at Hotel Recamier in the heart of my favorite arrondissement: Saint Germain des Pres. Hotel Recamier was another gem, tucked neatly into Place Saint Sulpice, and walking distance from those quintessentially charming Parisian streets. Our final two days were spent strolling, hand-in-hand, among famed pieces of art and through crowded cobblestone streets. Our conversations were unhurried and our hugs a bit tighter. The wine may have even been a bit sweeter. It felt that we had found ourselves again. 

In the end and after thoughtful reflection, we agreed that each city had its own unique spirit. And Paris, a city in the midst of a war, seems to have reemerged from the recent past quite the same way we did: scarred, but stronger.

Tatiana Ciccarelli splits her time between careers. During the day she is a Special Education teacher with a specialization in Autism Spectrum Disorders and an Assistant Professor at The College of Staten Island. At night and on weekends (and all the time in between) she is the owner of White Elephant Events, a full-service event planning and design company based out of New York. Most recently her work with White Elephant Events has been featured in Glamour, Inspired By This, Yahoo Makers, and Southern Bride.

Dancing in the rain in Costa Rica

 Dancing in the Rain in Costa Rica

Words & Images by Madison Garrett

All of my clothes are wet.

Countless t-shirts, Nike shorts, and socks hang, soaking wet, from the ladder in my bungalow, hopeless to dry in this ever-present cloud that hangs around the jungle-clad mountains of Costa Rica.

All of my clothes are wet. And it’s entirely and blissfully my fault.

When I embarked on my three week study abroad to Costa Rica, I promised myself that I would fully embrace whatever life looked like while I was there. The locals say “Pura Vida”, the country’s characteristic catch phrase, to simultaneously mean “good day”, “nice to meet you” and “THIS IS AWESOME”. Translated literally, it means “pure life” or “this is living”. My team and I, however, used it as a much cooler version of YOLO.

As a result, I jumped head first into Costa Rica, not knowing a soul on the trip, not speaking the Spanish language, and not being totally sure where Costa Rica was. Pura Vida!

Our group of twenty lived with and amongst the people of San Luis, a small agricultural town in the northwest province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Everything is rain forest and farmland; to go anywhere, you quite literally walk uphill both ways and in the rain. The region is considered a “cloud forest” because it is consistently shrouded in cloud cover, allowing it to be one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The cloud cover also allows San Luis to remain at a balmy 65 to 70 degrees constantly. The humidity wreaked havoc on my wavy hair, but hey! At least we weren’t sweating to death while hiking!

Every day, it rained. A steady, powerful downpour either woke us up at six or began around three in the afternoon and would continue well past sunset. Whether we were in class, listening to lectures about carbon offsetting, or hiking through sustainable farms, it was always, always, always raining. The rain became our constant companion, our expected wake-up call, and an ever-present threat to our clothes and tennis shoes.

We were prepared for this, of course. Our instructors had warned us to get waterproof hiking books, a good rain jacket, and even water proof notebooks to delay the rain’s waterlogging effects. We were fully equipped to stay as dry as possible.

But as the rain fell my first night in Costa Rica, it poured through the sunset and gave everything a golden tint, rumbling and shivering and casting its spell over the jungle; I knew I was going to be in trouble. All at once, though sheltered by eco-lodge’s tin roof, I fell in love with the falling Costa Rican rain. It was mesmerizing.

From that night on, my clothes were never dry.

I ran out and danced in every single rainstorm. I threw off my jacket to play soccer with locals as it thundered above us and poured onto us. I jumped into every swimming hole, swam through every river, and twirled barefoot in every puddle. I walked straight into a waterfall, , letting the water pour over me and pound against my receptive face, throwing my hands up in utter joy even though I knew I would have to hike home soaked.

Though I will forget the sound of the calls of all those exotic birds I saw, I will never forget the chills their chorus gave me as it resounded through the thunderstorm. Though I will forget the words I spoke, I will never forget the thrill of communicating in a different language with my host brother as we walked home together in the rain. I will never forget the faces of my host parents when I successfully milked a cow, and the love and bemused understanding they welcomed me with when I came home from class drenched since I refused to tighten the hood on my raincoat to better feel the rain against my face. Though I will forget the Latin names of all those rain forest plants and the quick movements of the merengue, I will never forget Costa Rica, the way my wet clothes would drip and cling to my body, and the freedom that fell upon me when I decided to dance in the rain.

Madison Garrett is a student currently residing in Athens, Georgia and adoring the life she has been given. She will graduate from the University of Georgia in May of 2017 as an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She currently serves as Trend Magazine's Senior Assistant, but she is an aspiring writer and editor. She loves being barefoot, intentional conversations, hiking, and sundresses, and deeply believes in optimism and encouragement.

Traveling Through : Hualien, Taiwan

Words & Images by Amanda Osborn

Hualien is the second largest city in eastern Taiwan. It’s nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Central Mountain Range and offers visitors a scenic getaway from skyscrapers and fast paced city life. Visitors based in Taipei can spend a mere day in Hualien by booking a same day round trip train ticket, but I’d suggest giving yourself two or three days to unwind and relax as you explore everything Hualien has to offer.

Time almost has a funny way of slowing down in Hualien, such is the pace of life in this smaller Taiwanese city. When I was there, I really appreciated being able to take things slowly to better enjoy my experiences. Here are my top three picks for what to see, eat, and do if you’re ever in the area! Note that English is not widely spoken in Hualien, if at all, so keep that in mind when making travel plans.

Places to See:

Taroko Gorge National Park Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園) is one of Taiwan’s most famous national parks. It’s named after the landmark Taroko Gorge, which spans 19 kilometers long. “Taroko” translates to “magnificent and splendid” in the language of Truku, the aboriginal tribe that lives in the area. Magnificent and splendid are apt descriptions, as Taroko Gorge and its sights were some of the most breathtaking scenic views I’ve come across in my lifetime.

There are quite a few ways to visit Taroko Gorge and to explore the park, including tour bus, private car, scooter, bicycle, or by foot. I opted for a private van tour, and joined five other passengers for a day long tour of Taroko Gorge. Some of the park’s most famous sites include:

  • The Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), where a temple dedicated to the 450 workers who lost their lives building the highway is nestled into the base of the gorge
  • Swallow Grotto Trail (燕子口步道), where the gorge twists and towers in some of the most spectacular sights
  • Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖), where towering coastal cliffs rise 100-200 meters above sea level and plunge straight into the Pacific Ocean
  • Bulowan (布洛灣), where the gorge transforms from steep marble cliff walls into dense forest shrouded by mist, and is the site of a former Taroko mountain village

Since I hadn’t planned on hiking and I didn’t have any real desire to explore the gorge on my own, my decision to go on a private van tour was perfect for me. My day tour was eight hours long, including an hour break in the middle of the day for lunch, and I saw everything I wanted to see. In future, I’d LOVE to go back and do some hiking and river tracing, or even participate in the annual Taroko International Marathon! (I’d only do the half marathon or 5K, though. Don’t think I’d ever be up for doing a marathon in this lifetime...)

Places to Eat:

Ziqiang Night Market (plus dumplings!) Ziqiang Night Market (自強夜市) is famous throughout Taiwan for its bevy of food and drinks! Not only does it offer delicious food and snacks, there’s also games like pinball and darts available to play. My favorite things about night markets are the atmosphere and the fact that I get to try a little bit of everything that I come across. This night market has no shortage of food to try; I ate stir fried noodles with wild boar, stinky tofu, Taiwanese fried chicken, and fresh squeezed pineapple juice. If my stomach had been as big as my eyes, I also would’ve eaten some hotpot and coffin cake!

Bonus: if night markets aren’t really your thing but you love dumplings, I highly suggest going to Gongzheng Baozi (公正包子), which is an amazing (and cheap!) dumpling shop right in the city center. It’s a no frills place that serves baozi (包子, steamed stuffed buns), xiaolongbao (小笼包, soup dumplings), and jiaozi (饺子, dumplings). The place is often jam packed and the dumplings are served in record time. Man, I could’ve eaten nothing but those dumplings for the entirety of my time in Hualien, they were so good!

Things To Do:

Explore Along the Seaside My lodgings were right along the beach, so I spent a day leisurely strolling along the boardwalk and soaking in the sunshine and salty air. I wish I had thought of renting a bicycle or even a scooter so that I could’ve seen more of the seaside, but I still covered quite a bit of ground on foot that day. I eventually made my way to Qixingtan Beach (七星潭) and walked along some of the sightseeing trails and beach pavilions. Qixingtan offered a great view of the Pacific, and the black pebbles instead of sand made it different from the beaches I’ve encountered in the past.


While Hualien obviously has more than just these three things to offer visitors, these recommendations are really good if you’re short on time or have no idea where to start. Hualien is definitely a place I loved visiting and would love to go again, and I hope that if you make your way there you’ll love it as much as I did!

Traveling Through : Richmond, Virginia

Words and images by Rachel Dawson

You’ll find it on the map as Richmond, VA but us locals call it RVA. It’s Virginia’s River City, with the wild James River carrying the only urban white water rapids through our middle. We’re home to more than a few coffee roasting companies, with their shops and cafes never more than a few blocks apart. We’re known for being home to hipsters, but that really just means we have fantastic art and music scenes, great tattoo artists, fantastic craft breweries, and every kind of restaurant a dedicated foodie could want. There’s something for everyone here-- big parks like Maymont with tons of open green space, hiking and biking trails, a popular outdoor mall just down the road, enough of a downtown to feel like a true city, a festival of some kind almost every weekend, and, if you ever want to leave, the beach or the mountains or Washington, D.C. are all just about two hours away.

Come on over, we would be happy to share a brew or a roast with you!

How to Feel at Home When You're Away

Words by Mia Sutton

Recently, I had to travel for work. I was away from home for 3 days, which may not seem like a very long time, but after the first night, I was already homesick. There’s something to be said about the creature comforts of home – your own bed, all your stuff in its place, the “smell” of home that you can’t smell until you leave for a while and come back.

Whenever I have to travel, I try to do my best to bring “home” with me and be as comfortable as possible. Here are some of my tried and true tips for feeling at home when you’re away.

Bring your favorite pillow/blanket. I know that there’s limited space in your luggage, so this tip may not always be possible if you’re flying. But if you’re driving and have a little bit of extra room, I highly recommend it. I always find the pillows in hotels to be too lumpy or too flat. And I can’t stand the thought of using hotel blankets. Having that familiar feel and smell will help you to sleep better when you’re in a strange place.

Bring comfy clothes. This goes along with the last tip. When I travel, I always bring my softest, comfy-est pajamas and hoodie with me. It helps me to relax.

Try to stick to the same schedule (if you can). Do you get up at a certain time of the morning to exercise or perhaps enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee with your newspaper? Then start your day off right by doing something familiar. Or maybe you’re more of a night owl. Bring a book with you and read the night away. Or go exploring and check out some touristy places in your destination if you’re the adventurous type.

Bring photos of your loved ones. I’m a mom and traveling is especially hard for me because I always miss my kids something fierce. I’m so used to being home with my boys and snuggling in front of a movie, eating popcorn and giggling together. Most of all, I miss their sweet little faces, so having photos of them with me help keep the feelings of sadness at bay.

What are some of your tips?

Traveling Through: Toronto, Canada

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Toronto, Canada is a pretty fantastic place nestled in on Lake Ontario. Here are some of my must see, eat, shop, and do's while you're here!


  • The iconic CN tower is the tallest structure in Canada - ride the elevator up to the glass floor or if you are a real daredevil, try the Edge Walk around the perimeter at the top...
  • The Distillery District in the East end is filled with lots of charm. Home to many bustling shops and restaurants, it is a truly gorgeous part of the city to check out.
  • Hyde Park is a picturesque place for a stroll or a picnic - come for the trees, stay for the breeze!


  • Feast is a top 8 allergen free food and grocery spot. located on Queen Street West. Come meet Wendy, one of the owners, who will treat you like family... and always recommends the triple chocolate donut. (Psst. It's delicious)
  • Raaw Sushi in Liberty Village is a great little spot for regulars. Their Miso Soup is divine, and you can't beat the value of the bento boxes. Everything is a winner here.
  • Stoney's is located just outside of Toronto in Etobicoke, but its worth mentioning. The sandwiches and burgers are unbelievably tasty, and everything is made in house. This is an all time favorite spot that will have you going back - repeatedly!
  • The Craft, located in Liberty Village, is a new spot that has over 120 craft beers on tap. Even if you aren't a beer lover, the food is always on point and always quick to your table. Come with friends and try your own flight of four 5oz pours for about $10 CAD.


  • The Paper Place on Queen Street West has some of the prettiest paper goods in all of the city. They have so many fun nicknacks and they are the perfect place for anyone who loves anything stationary related!
  • Lavish & Squalor is home to unique home decor and fashion. Also located on Queen Street West (really the best for shops and food), buy a luxurious candle or handcrafted soap to remember your trip when you return home.
  • Blackbird Vintage is located in The Distillery District. Filled with vintage and retro themed goods, this place has something for everyone. From men's shaving kits to gorgeous stationary, this is a shop not to be missed.


  • Toronto is a city who loves her sports: we have professional teams for hockey, baseball, football, and soccer. Take your pick - any game is worth it for the energy alone!
  • Take a ferry to Toronto Island for a day away from the hustle and bustle. This is best enjoyed in the summer when you can hang out on a relaxing beach with friends and family.
  • Check out one of the many music venues in the city for new and exciting emerging artists, as well as old faves. Toronto is a tour stop for many big artists, and its worth having a look to see who's in town when you are!


Traveling Through: Bel Air, Maryland

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Words and images by Shelly Nino

When the town you live in is the same town that gave our country John Wilkes Booth, you can expect it to want to redeem itself; and that it has. Established in 1782, Bel Air, Maryland is the best of both worlds: robust, preserved history mixed with modern charm and convenience. Its downtown is lined with historic buildings turned modern shops, cafes, restaurants, and municipal offices, as well as beautiful, old Victorian homes. It boasts great schools, a booming art scene, shopping options galore, gorgeous city and state parks, an unmatched sense of community and so much more. But one of Bel Air’s best selling points calls for the use of the real estate agent mantra, “location, location, location!” That’s right. it is located just a short drive away from some major east coast destinations: Baltimore, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. When it comes to choosing a place called home, I am glad my family and I chose Bel Air. There is everything to love about living here.