Besties at the Beach: Tulum Time With K

When I decided that I would end my time in Mexico with a week in Tulum – and that I didn’t want to spend that week alone – my best friend Kristin was the first person I thought of. She was also the last person I thought would or could actually come.

Friends for 13 years and besties for 11, Kristin and I have taken beach vacations together before. We honeymooned together in Costa Rica. K married Andrew on a Costa Rican beach in the last days of 2009, but they didn’t get to take a honeymoon because Andrew had to be back at work in the early days of 2010. So Kristin and I took a honeymoon instead – a road trip to Santa Teresa. Then there was Thailand; when we were both living overseas – me in Australia, Kristin in China – we met for a couple weeks on Koh Chang. That time we let Andrew come along.

Those trips were wonderful – but they were before. Before Kristin accumulated the triad of Real Adult Responsibility: husband, mortgage, two small children – not to mention the full-time job as a schoolteacher.

The thing about schoolteachers, though? They get Spring Break.

And so it happened that when I asked Kristin to come to Tulum for a week – not imagining in a million years that she would actually be able to – she said yes. Actually, to be accurate, she said maybe, and Andrew said yes. His birthday present to Kristin felt like a gift to me.

It’s hard to even describe our week in Tulum. It’s a pleasant blur of sun, bike rides to the beach, lounge chairs and margaritas. There were a couple trips to ruins too, but we got out of there as soon as possible and got ourselves back to our lounge chairs (here).  

As always, the moments that stick out aren’t the perfect ones: I remember the squeaky and sticky bike I got for my last day (and how grumpy it made me), an Instagram princess on the beach who couldn’t sit still for more than thirty seconds (and the back story we made up about her), the unwittingly hilarious Airbnb host who warned us about the danger of coco-driles, a 3 a.m. trip to the airport, a Colombian Bruce Springsteen lookalike. Basically, anything that made us laugh and remember why we really, really like being around each other. 

reading on the beach tulum

Funnily enough, Kristin and I showed up at the beach with the same book – Zoe WhittallThe Best Kind of People. That’s you, K. You’re the best kind of people.

Cheesy! Sorry. Here are a few more photos of our Tulum rendezvous – and a mini sort-of guide to the area. ruins tulum biking

Tulum Notes

It didn’t seem worthwhile to write up a Tulum guide, because it’s a big deal at the moment and there a thousand good guides out there (like this one by Lucy Laucht), but here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • K and I initially booked into a glamping resort on the beach, but a few days after I booked I got a notification that the resort was no longer available. I can’t tell for sure, but it seems like it may have shut down. There’s still glamping here and here (cause it’s a glamping kind of place…) but both options were a little rich for our blood, so will have to put those beauties on a list for one day…
  • Instead, we stayed at a couple of Airbnbs in town. Neither was anything particularly special, so I’m not going to share them here, but it should be noted that the budget options in Tulum are situated in the town of Tulum, which is a few kilometres from the beach. The town is super bicycle-centric; you can rent bicycles all over the place (hold out for a cute one; trust me, in Tulum you’ll want one). There’s a great path from the town to the beach – and K and I loved our daily bike rides to and from. Except for the last day (see above re: squeaky bike). So if you can’t get a place at the beach, don’t sweat it. Actually, you might sweat a little on your bike.
  • For both Kristin and me, coffee is Priority 1A. We literally went to Ki’Bok for coffee and breakfast every morning, and we thought both coffee and food were pretty damn good (it seems Travel + Leisure agrees).
  • Ki’Bok is located in a strip of restaurants and bars in the town. There’s also a cool bar with excelled mojitos called Batey. Kristin and I spent a few hours there on our first night (and met a Colombian Bruce Springsteen lookalike!).
  • There was a place in town called Burrito Amor that I really loved. Burritos are TexMex, not Mexico. But I’d been in Mexico for almost three weeks by the time I got to Tulum, and I was getting a bit tired of traditional Mexican food (obviously got over that about five minutes after I got back to Vancouver). So the SoCal-feeling burritos at Burrito Amor were a breath of fresh air.
  • The ruins in Tulum weren’t actually that old. They’re the most stunningly situated ruins you may ever visit, but there are heaps of houses in Europe that are older than these ruins. So. I was underwhelmed. If you decide to skip them and stay on the beach with a good book and a margarita/paloma/cerveza, no judgement here.

Real Talk

Canadian History, Only Interesting

So. Canada’s having a birthday. You may have heard. A big one, if you think Confederation is something to celebrate. I’m not going to get into that here. I think it’s possible to celebrate 150 years as a country while also acknowledging that we have a great deal of baggage that goes back much farther than 1867.

What bugs me about all the brouhaha is how relentless it’s been, since January 1 – and the tone of much of it. I take particular issue with the campaigns of two Canadian companies – companies I otherwise love. First, Chapters/Indigo, with its aggressive assertion that “The World Needs More Canada.” It was okay when Bono said it, I guess, because he represented the rest of the world. But for Canadians to take it and run with it, repeating it ad nauseam? Yeah. Nauseating. For Canada to tell the world that the world needs more of us is a kind of arrogance that doesn’t fit us very well.

The other brand is Roots, which has decided to spend this year celebrating Canada’s reputation (or self-image?) of being nice. I can think of a few populations who might have a thing or two to say about how nice we are. Also: we don’t own nice. Maybe (most) Canadians are nice. But we don’t and can’t own nice. In my experience, Americans are nice. New Zealanders are possibly the nicest. Except for those who aren’t. And the Americans who aren’t and the Canadians who aren’t. ALSO: as my besties will attest, I’ve long said that if the first word someone thinks of to describe me is ‘nice’, I have failed as a person. I’d say the same holds true for countries.

It all reminds me of a book I read a long time (15 years?!) ago – Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson – and an essay/review I wrote about it for an undergrad creative writing class. It still feels relevant, all these years later – especially right now. Read on for a story about my own obnoxious Canadianism on a trip overseas, and why Canada needs to break up with the ‘Myth of Niceness’ once and for all.
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Empire State of Mind

lower east side

So. New York.

I’ve gotta say, I was a bit of a skeptic going in. Which is to say, I arrived with sky-high expectations and anticipating disappointment. When you’ve been hearing about how a-MAZ-ing a place is for 33 years, it’s hard to imagine that it could possibly live up to the hype.

Greatest city on earth? We’ll see.

Plus, when I travel I’m not particularly drawn to big, congested cities. I like mountains and farms. Cities can be overwhelming – so I suspected that New York would be…too much.  

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My B.C. Bucket List


‘May Long’ has always been the unofficial start of summer in Canada, even though it’s a month short of real summer. And it typically doesn’t feel like real summer either – it almost always pours rain, and I almost always go camping anyway. So my May Long memories usually involve hovering under a tarp and wondering why the hell I haven’t learned my lesson. And then the next year I do it again.

This winter in Vancouver has been dire, and before that we had a ridiculously rainy autumn. So we’ve earned this summer – and I sure as hell am going to make the most of it.

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That expat life

Melbourne AustraliaLast week, it came around again. April 9: the anniversary of the day I left Melbourne, by choice but against my will. Four years now, it’s been. It’s definitely feeling like four years. I’m beginning to forget little details, names of restaurants and coffee shops and streets.

I miss it. A lot.

But sometimes I wonder if it’s really Melbourne I miss, or if it’s something else. Like the person I was there – happier, more carefree. Or if it’s being an expat. Because I really, really loved being an expat.

When I was in Mexico City last month, and last year, I got to relive that expat experience a bit. I was only there for a week or so last year, and for an even shorter time this year, but through my friend Jen (a fellow ex-Melbournian, now repatriated) I got to hang out with her impressively international group of friends. This year, in the span of four days I spent time with Americans, Australians, a Malawian, a Bolivian and some Frenchies, including ‘real French’ and a very endearing French Canadian. And Mexicans, of course – the most cosmopolitan group of Mexicans you could ever hope to meet, who seamlessly transition from English to Spanish and back again. I’ve always been so impressed by that ability – when I see someone switch between languages, sometimes mid-sentence, without missing a beat, I fall a little bit in love with them. Also, I’m so crazy envious.

Part of me feels like I didn’t get the full ex-pat experience, living in a country that speaks my language. That is about as close to Canada as it’s possible to be.

Sitting with Jen’s friends in Mexico City, listening to them switch back and forth between English and Spanish, perfectly happy to understand them only half the time, I realized that I’m not done with being an expat. I love it too much not to do it again – hopefully soon, but this time in a place where English isn’t the first language, or even the second.

There are plans in the works. They start with taking Spanish lessons this summer.

And Melbourne? I’m coming back for you, if only for a visit.


Oh, hey.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? A year? Maybe more?

It’s been a pretty crazy, incredible and surprising year. In the past six months alone, in addition to being at home in Vancouver and in Kelowna, Comox and Victoria (my old stomping grounds) I’ve been in Portland, Boulder, Tahoe (twice), Santa Monica and three different states in Mexico. I’ve lost track of the number of flights I’ve taken and the number of cars I’ve rented. And I love it.

When I rather rashly quit my job to write freelance – sans plan of any kind – I didn’t expect it to go so well. I didn’t expect every agency I approached to hire me. And I didn’t expect how much brand consulting I’d end up doing – or how much travelling I would get to do as a result.

I’ve loved figuring things out as I go, enjoying the happy happenstance of it all. But a year and a half in, it’s time to get deliberate. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a lot of thinking about where I want to go from here, literally and figuratively. About what I want for my business and my life.

On both of those lists, always and forever: travel. More of it than I’ve been doing, and more opportunities to write about the travel itself. More travel content, here on Chelsea Tells Stories and elsewhere online and in print. I’m excited. There are plans this time. And lists. So many lists.


Winter Reading

I try to read for an hour every day. Easier some days than others — beach days, days at my folks’ house, and rainy winter days. In Vancouver, we get a lot of those. Now that winter has settled in, I’ve accumulated a stack of books to work through over these next cold, dark, damp months. Here’s what’s on my ‘bedside table’ at the moment (note: my apartment is too small for a bedside table. My beside table is a windowsill next to my bed):

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I quit my job.

I quit my job

I didn’t know when I woke up last Friday that I was going to quit my job.

And then, just after noon, I did. I asked my boss to go for a walk. We sat on a sunny bench in the park near our studio, and I told her:

I don’t want to do this anymore.

I don’t want to spend 80% of my time doing things that I hate doing, that sap my energy, that I’m not particularly good at, and only 20% (if I’m lucky) doing the things I love and am good at.

I didn’t go tens of thousands of dollars into debt getting my master’s degree to be a sad cliché who is miserable at work, who spends Sundays plagued by The Dread.

Don’t get me wrong — there are elements of my job that I love. There are moments, days — weeks even — when I feel great about what I do. And those are the moments that I want to stretch out and build into a career.

I spent (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend with a roomful of people who have done exactly that: built careers out of what they love doing. They were storytellers — not just people who have bought into the marketing buzz around storytelling, but people who have made a living telling stories. And I could — can — do that too.

So I quit my safe, secure, well-paying job. I’m giving up fortnightly pay cheques to venture into the terrifying, exciting unknown and make a go of it as a freelancer.

Wish me luck.

Stay tuned for more stories about this new adventure.

P.S. A couple of posts/articles that influenced my leap of faith: Here’s Why the Freelance Economy is on the Rise (Fast Company) | Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (Raptitude) | The Mobile Workspace (Micro-Documentaries Blog)


Vancouver Love

It’s fall, and I’m back.

It was an incredible summer — long, hot, glorious. A bit exhausting, too, if I’m being honest; I was constantly on the go — to the Gulf Islands, the Okanagan, Toronto, Calgary, but most importantly around Vancouver. Down the Indian Arm in a kayak, up to pristine mountain lakes, around the Sea Wall on my bike about a million times.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I’m finally getting over Melbourne. I was heartbroken when I left Australia. It felt like being dumped: forced to leave against my will, before I was ready. The life I loved — poof! — gone.

They say the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else — that only when you find someone new to focus that energy and attention on do you really move on.

Well, there’s a new city in my life, and I think it might be love.

When I moved back to Canada, it was for All The Right Reasons, but in the day to day of my life, I was unconvinced that I would ever come to love Vancouver the way I love(d) Melbourne. One year after my repatriation, I was still mourning Melbourne hard. I still haven’t found in Vancouver what I had Down Under — my tribe, if I am to use obnoxious marketing speak — but I’m starting to think that I’ll get there. And you really can’t beat that mountain and ocean combo.

That said, if Stephen Harper gets reelected, I’ll be Melbourne-bound by Christmas.

P.S. If you want to see what I got up to in and around Vancouver this summer, check back soon for a photo post, or follow me on Instagram @chelseatellsstories