Sticking It To Canadian Telecom

I spent $160 for mobile service the ten months that I was in Europe. The breakdown is:

-$55 for three months in Bulgaria because I was paying per minute, text, and MB and didn’t realise that I should have been buying a package.

-$12 for 10 days in Serbia, for which I got unlimited calls and texts and so much data that I ended up using it to do my iOS updates.

-$30 for two months in Spain, for unlimited talk and text and a generous data allowance

-and $62 for two months in England, which was a more premium package with international calls, unlimited UK calls, unlimited texts, and something like 10GB of data.

There are so many Canadian plans and they vary from province to province, but as a point of reference, Bell Mobility starts at $32 a month (plus tax!) for 200Mb of data and limited talk and text. Realistically, I was looking at about $200 to get me through to my departure from Haven in May.

My original plan had been to keep my Mexican SIM topped up and use that in Canada since you can do that at the same price as if you’re in Mexico, but being an idiot, I forgot to top up.


TelCel is very generous with giving free gift balance and kept my account topped up the whole time I was gone. I just put 15CAD (200MXN) onto my account and got a package good for 30 days that has unlimited talk and text, plus 1.5GB of data, all good within Canada, the US, and Mexico. Bell’s most expensive plan ($66 plus tax) doesn’t even come close to that.

Any Canadians who go to Mexico on holiday should unlock their phones and get on a Mexican plan while down there, then cancel their service at home and tell Bell, Telus, etc. why. Now, I’m not sure if a Canadian number can call the Mexican number for free, but there are workarounds that would make this little protest painless. Canadian telecom prices are out outrageously out of sync with the rest of the world and it is time for us to revolt. As for me? Bye-bye Canadian telecom! You’ve seen the last of me!

Jackery Bar Power Pack

It was way back in Bulgaria last summer that it became clear that my phone’s battery was on the fritz. Kevin and Ruth recommended an external power pack that could possibly solve my power issues, but that brand wasn’t available in Bulgaria. Shopping for another alternative brand with the language barrier was daunting and I didn’t  have much access to to electronics stores anyway. I was also loathe to spend what is to me a lot of money on something for which I wouldn’t be able to use the warranty if it broke. Plus, I’ll admit that I have a short memory and it’s only on the rare days that I go out for many hours that I’m reminded of just how unreliable my phone is.

The phone has gotten exponentially worse and the battery issues seem to make it unresponsive as well. Since the phone was originally free, I thought that replacing the battery wouldn’t be an unreasonable cost, but it was about 125CAD to do that and I’d rather put that money towards a new phone. So an external power pack really seemed like a better investment since it could also provide charging power to my iPad and be used with whatever phone I get to replace my iPhone 5C.

When I got to the UK, I had a look at the product again, the Jackery Bar, since it is available through But the cost was twice what would pay for the device in Canada! It’s for 25CAD with the taxes, but it was £30 on the UK site, so about 50CAD.

I came into some unexpected money my first night here in Shrewsbury and decided that that was the sign I was looking for to just buy the damn thing. So I logged into my account to place an order and… found that the price had dropped to £10, or about 16CAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s even less than buying the Jackery Bar at I signed up for a free Prime membership trial to get free delivery and next business day delivery. So that was Saturday night and now it’s Monday and this thing of beauty is currently charging:

It’s quite heavy and more bulky than I expected, but I think I picked the right model. There are smaller ones that I didn’t feel would give me enough power (since the phone really isn’t holding a charge) and that wouldn’t charge my iPad at all (this one promises me up to half a charge for my Mini). The bigger one sounded way too humongous to drag around. The Bar appears to be the compromise between power and portability. I had a choice of the full range of colours and thought the orange was pretty although the muted gold was a close second choice.

Now, to see it is the help I hope it will be. Note to self, don’t forget to pack it and the phone charging cable when I go out!

Of course, this is a stop gap measure as I still need to replace the phone eventually. I’ve finally admitted that I’m going to have to make the same sacrifice I do with my computer, accepting hardware compromises to get superior software. In other words, there’s no way I’m moving to Android and I’m just going to have to hope that my next iPhone isn’t a lemon too. I have to remind myself that of all the Apple products I’ve owned in the last 14 years, only two have been duds, so the odds are I’ll be thrilled with my next phone. If anyone has an unlocked iPhone 6 (preferably the big one) for sale, let me know as I’ll be in active shopping mode when I get back to Canada next month. 🙂

How the Smartphone Has Changed Travel For Me

I was asked this in a comment yesterday: “Do I really need an iPhone to get about?  What happened to maps?”

I like to use a paper map to orientate me in a city and to get a better idea of where things are in relation to each other. If I’m just going from point A to B, I’ll also use it to navigate. Provided the city has adequate street signage, which so many of them do not.

To me, the question of whether you really need a smartphone to travel nowadays is akin to asking an explorer of old if he needs an astrolabe or a sextant. No, not strictly speaking. But it sure makes it easier to get around.

Your paper map won’t tell you where you are in an instant.

It doesn’t know the most pedestrian friendly route or the location of the nearest no-fee ATM.

It can’t let you do a quick search on the cheap sushi place to learn it has a mouse problem.

Unless it’s specifically for public transit, it very likely won’t be able to get you to the nearest bus stop for your route and tell you how quickly to expect the next bus.

The paper map will disintegrate in rain (like mine did on Friday — it was so damp out that even when under cover, the map was getting soaked).

Glancing at your smartphone is way more discrete and something locals do, which can be safer than standing on a corner with a giant map, branding yourself as a tourist.

A paper map also won’t give you access to your bank accounts if you need to move money around in a hurry, a calculator to do a quick currency conversion, or access to your invoicing system when you’re off on what is technically a work day and a client emails you with a question (your map also can’t get your emails).

I could go on and and on about the relevance of a smartphone. I travelled before they existed and having one is so much better than not having one. If you’re someone whose idea of travel is to take taxis between locations with very little walking around, then a paper map is likely still enough. But I cover a lot of ground on foot and I’d much rather have a little voice in my ear telling me turn here or there so that I can focus on discovering the city I’m visiting than to wander around with my nose buried in a map.

That said, I’d take my GPS over any smartphone maps and I’m still rather kicking myself for not finding room for mine!

Logistical Planning My First Day in Amsterdam

After dinner last night, I had a shower and then got out of my hosts’ way so they could finish packing for their trip. I went to bed around 10:30 or so and am surprised I pretty much slept the night through considering how hard the bed was (worse than Bulgaria!). But, hold on, hold on, I knew that ahead of time that the guest bed was bad and it would be a tradeoff for not having to pay for a room somewhere. Tonight, I move to the very luxurious master suite. 🙂

So, I ended up being awake pretty early. I did some online stuff, including trying to figure out why some of you long-time readers are suddenly having your comments moderated. I don’t have an answer for that yet, sorry. Just know that it’s nothing personal and that I’m working on it!

I eventually got up and made coffee and breakfast (had bought things last night), then started to plan my time in Amsterdam. The first thing I researched was whether the “Museumkaart,” an all access pass to museums all over the Netherlands, would be good value for me at 60 euros. It certainly will be, so I’ll get it and then I’ll do one or two museums a day. I’m planning to be pretty much “on vacation” through this weekend and everything is open, so I’ll be in hard core tourism mode, then I’ll work half days next week. As long as I don’t eat out much, the museum pass will be my biggest expense.

Next, I decided to see if getting a SIM card for my phone would be an option. Google told me that Lebara would be a good place to ask and there happened to be one right in front of the Albert Heijn grocery store I went to last night. So I headed there around noon.

A very nice guy from Jordan who spoke perfect English got me sorted very quickly. The SIM was free and 1GB of data was just 10 euros! I think this was my cheapest place to get online so far, possibly even better than Serbia.

I then wandered a bit around my neighbourhood.

This is a part of my street. I live at the end of it on the left.

So many bicycles. And bike lanes. I got yelled at a number of times today for not watching for bikes and/or getting in their lane. Need to be more conscious of that! Crossing streets can be challenging since you have to look both ways for bikes, then cars, then possibly trams, then cars, then bikes again!

This is where we had dinner last night, Olivity. From the outside, I would never have guessed it’s a restaurant.

I got some dinner things at a different Albert Heijn and then went home to make sure there were no last minute things my host needed me to know before she headed off. I then spent some time putting on laundry and unpacking. It was too late to go out to a museum or something since everything closed at five today. Tomorrow, Friday, things are open later and I plan to make a very full day of it, starting with a walking tour, then at least one museum.

But I still went back out in the late afternoon. It was rather gloomy and damp, but not as bitterly cold as I expected. I had to wash my sweaters today so I only wore a thin long-sleeved cotton top under my coat and I was perfectly warm. I actually don’t think I’ll need the other layer if I’m walking as much as I think I will be and it’ll save me having too many layers when I go into museums. However, I do want a fluffier scarf and some sort of warm hat.

So my afternoon walk. The endless rows of terraced houses reminded me so much of London, but the architectural style is completely different.

Neat wooden bicycle.

My first canal! (Not counting what I saw from the train.)

Bicycles and a canal, so quintessentially Amsterdam!

Like being in one of Rembrandt’s paintings. The sky didn’t really translate to pixels, but the lighting was so evocative of his paintings!

The entirety of this poem by Emily Dickinson was on several plaques. Reading it, I was hit by a surprising wave of homesickness.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

I didn’t actually make it to downtown tonight. It’s a bit of a hike (1.5KM just to the limits of it) and I’m doing a walking tour tomorrow so it didn’t make sense to do that. Once that’s done, I’ll go get my Museumkaart. I was advised to get it at one of the less busy museums, so I won’t be doing the two at the top of my wish list just yet, especially since you’re strongly advised to prebook your visitation slot. Can you guess what two museums they might be?

I can’t wait to go exploring tomorrow!

My Traveling Indefinitely Packing List: An Update

It’s been four and a half months since I wrote about my Traveling Indefinitely Packing List and I’ve been traveling with the contents of this list for more than four months. So I thought I’d share how it’s working out for me.

This is the original post, but with notes added to each item.


I have successfully been able to travel with my luggage as carry-on!

  • Carry-on suitcase: I’m really pleased with how my suitcase has worked out. It’s easy to carry around because of its small size and has been very robust. The wheels have withstood trundling over dozens of kilometres.
  • Small laptop backpack: This bag has been great! It’s also very robust and has served me well as a daypack for hiking or hauling home groceries. The small size makes it perfect for taking onto a bus or putting under my seat on a plane.
  • Tote as purse/daypack (carried in the suitcase on travel day): As expected, I got tired of the purse I brought as a day pack, wanting something a bit bigger that I could wear cross-body, even though I loved all the pockets in the purse. I replaced it in Sarajevo.I like how the new bag looks and how much it can comfortably hold, but miss having all the pockets for organising the contents. So I guess I’m still in the market for the perfect day bag!
  • Luggage locks: I didn’t start to use these until I left Bulgaria and was storing my suitcase under buses. I have no illusion that they offer any protection against a determined thief, but they are a deterrent to someone who just wants to snatch and grab. I felt more comfortable sleeping on public transport with my laptop bag having the lock.


  • Fleece zip-up hoodie: It’s not fancy, but it’s warm and comforting. It feels like both a jacket and a sweater, so it’s comfortable to wear indoors on chilly days without feeling like I’m wearing “outside clothes.” I’m keeping my eye out at second hand stores for a better quality one in dark grey, but until then, I’m happy with my pink one.
  • Lightweight rain jacket/wind breaker: As a wind breaker, it’s great. As a rain jacket, it’s proven to be a huge disappointment. Now that I’m somewhere that I speak the language, I’m going to look for something like “Scotch Guard” to see if I can properly waterproof it. I love how lightweight this jacket is and that it folds down to nothing. The bright pink colour is a tad obnoxious, but adds that pop of colour on a grey day that I need. I know I’d look more “polished” in a black one, but the pink makes me smile!
  • Chrysalis Cardi: I haven’t used this as much as I would have hoped, but it has earned a place in my traveling wardrobe. I actually really love how it feels and looks as a cardi, but it is a huge pain to get on and styled correctly. It also annoys me how the tag is always showing (but you need the tag to help you position the fabric correctly — they should have gone with something embroidered into the cloth in the same colour). I have used it mostly as a dress, and been very happy to have that option! But I am rather distressed that the fabric started pilling right after the first use, not something I expected for such an expensive item. There are a few more stylings I’d like to try with it, but haven’t managed to successfully.


  • Two black medium-weight skirts, ankle length: I’ve been happy with these! They are a bit lighter weight than I would have liked, so I have to wear them with a slip or leggings. They drape beautifully and can really be dressed up or down.
  • Two pairs of jeans, one dark wash, one light wash: I love my jeans! I only started to wear them in Sarajevo (because it hadn’t been cool enough to wear jeans until then) and was struck by how comfortable they are. I even wore a pair for the plane ride to Barcelona. I mostly wear the lighter wash pair and save the darker pair for when I go out.
  • One pair of dark grey capris: They served me well in Bulgaria as my hiking capris, but haven’t aged well and the material is super thin. I would love to find a replacement pair in the same colour, but thicker material. I don’t wear these in public, but I’m happy to slip them on when I’m just hanging out at home.
  • Four tee-shirts: As expected, I am sick and tired of these! 🙂 I’m now actively seeking replacements. But they served me well all summer.
  • Three three-quarter sleeve tops: The good quality purple and grey ones are still some of my favourite tops ever. The pink one is cute, but doesn’t fit as well and has started to get a little pilly. I’m not looking to replace these yet.
  • One tank top: Along with the capris, this was my uniform in Malak Izvor! It’s now got too many stains to wear in public, but I still keep it for hanging around at home for sleeping and cooking.
  • One black shift dress: I’m surprised by how little I’ve worn it, but know that it’s mostly because it’s so short. Now that I’m somewhere that I “go out” regularly, perhaps I’ll pull it out more and style it with leggings and my Chrysalis cardi.
  • Black casual trousers: I added these in Bulgaria and they’re great for lounging around or a long day of walking.

Underwear and Accessories

  • One convertible bra: I’ve been glad to have the strapless option to wear with my Chrysalis Cardi as a dress!
  • One bra with underwire: I wear it when I “dress up” as it gives me a better shape.
  • Four soft bras: These are my daily bras and super comfortable, even if they are rather shapeless.
  • Four pairs briefs: I’ve moved to wearing these exclusively and they are surprisingly comfortable. It took me a long time to find a style of briefs that fit my body type and these are them.
  • Four pairs boy shorts: I managed to wear through most of these and only have one pair left to wear as pyjamas. I got annoyed with how the legs roll up and I have to wear leggings with my skirts anyway.
  • One half slip: I haven’t worn it much, but have been glad to have it when I needed it!
  • One pair long leggings: I haven’t worn these yet as it hasn’t been cold enough to!
  • One pair capri leggings: I’ve worn right through these and am looking for a replacement pair!
  • Five pairs of socks (three long, one short, one fluffy for around the house): I haven’t worn socks much as it hasn’t been that cold, but when I’ve needed them, these have suited my needs. I was happy to have the fluffy pair in Sarajevo.
  • One pair lightweight thermals (top and bottom): I haven’t worn these yet as it hasn’t been cold enough to!
  • One small scarf: I wore it once. It just hasn’t been that cold!
  • One large scarf (pashmina): Again, it hasn’t been that cold. I’ve only used it once to go into a mosque.
  • Four head scarves: I’m happy with the ones I brought with me as they offer me enough variety.
  • Earrings: I’ve lost some, picked up some, and am always happy to have a variety to choose from!
  • Two spare pairs prescription glasses: I’ve been wearing the same pair, but am glad to know I have backups.
  • Two pairs prescription sunglasses: I’ve been wearing the same pair, but am glad to know I have a backup.
  • Wig: I’ve only worn it on border days to make sure I look like my passport picture!


  • One pair “dressy” flip-flops: These are my iPanemas and I love them. I can walk all day in them and not feel a thing! I actually hiked up to the fortresses in Kotor and Almería and the castle in Alicante wearing these! They are super “grippy,”  but they don’t offer any protection for the ankle, so hike in them at your own risk. I’ve found them quite good on uneven cobblestone streets as well. My only complaint is the straps are a bit fussy and getting them on isn’t a quick process. They really are a tad “dressy” and I love pairing them with my Chrysalis Cardi as a dress when I want to dress up.
  • One pair ballet flats: These are my Tieks and, with a slight reservation, I adore them as well. They are just so cosy! I’ve worn them on a rainy London evening when my feet were aching and while walking all over Sarajevo, among others. The flooring in the house in Malak Izvor wasn’t suitable to wearing socks as slippers, so I spent many long chilly days wearing them as slippers and could even operate my foot pedal with them. They are the perfect shoe for walking on cobblestones. But like many other Tieks owners, they are tight around the big toe, to the point that I have had to change into my iPanemas after a really long day of walking in the Tieks (more than 10KM). This is improving the more I wear them (with the shoe stretching), but it is making me reconsider buying a pair in leather as I’m worried about the leather moulding to my big toe. I’ll reassess when I get back to North America, but with my experience so far, a pair in a neutral leather colour (like chestnut) that I could wear year-round would be a fantastic addition to my packing list.
  • Two pairs hiking sandals (one heavy, one light): The heavy ones are my Keens, which are starting to fall apart, right on schedule. I’m waiting to see where I spend the rest of the winter before replacing them with possibly a light hiking shoe. The lighter pair are Earth Spirits and I have gotten rid of them as I wore right through them this summer, as expected. I really miss them here in Spain, but I’m not going to be here long enough to make it worth replacing them. So I’m making do with my iPanemas and Tieks.

Toiletries and Miscellaneous Items

  • Blossom cup: This has been a game changer for me and a change I’m rueing not making much earlier in my life. I don’t have to worry about finding suitable products in each country or making a mess in someone else’s bed, don’t have to deal with the trash, and  limited bathroom breaks on long trips are a non-issue. All traveling gals of reproductive age should consider switching to a cup.
  • Comb: Useful when I use the wig. 🙂
  • Hair ties: Useful when I use the wig. 🙂
  • Pumice stone: I use this a lot for both my heels and exfoliating my skin.
  • Nail brush: I use it daily.
  • Nail clippers: I use them weekly.
  • Tweezers: I’ve used them mostly for first aid!
  • Crystal nail file: I use it almost daily. I’m only five years into not nail biting anymore, so I still have to make sure I polish rough edges right away or I risk falling back into bad old habits.
  • Wash cloth: It’s amazing how many places don’t give you a wash cloth. I’m happy I packed this!
  • Deodorant: I miss my brand from back home!
  • Toothpaste: I’ve replaced it with whatever was the cheapest local brand wherever I needed it and have been satisfied.
  • Toothbrush: I was surprised that my favourite tooth brush is about 1CAD in Bulgaria versus about 3CAD in Canada!
  • Sunscreen: I was glad to have my Canadian stuff when I was in Bulgaria as it’s a product that you have to ask for at a pharmacy and we all know my language skills were lacking! I need to buy some more and it’ll be easier in Spain.
  • Body wash: I’ve just been replacing it with whatever’s cheapest.
  • Body lotion: I’ve actually stopped using body lotion! I’ve been in humid climates and like in Mazatlán, my skin has not needed additional hydration.
  • Ibuprofen: I’ve gone through a lot of this and been happy to find replacements when I needed them.
  • Band-Aids: I went through a lot of these in Bulgaria because of the spiky foliage!
  • Wet Wipes: I can’t imagine traveling without these! There has been so much finger food and so many bathrooms without toilet paper!
  • Purell: See the above!
  • French Press: Being able to make coffee anywhere I have access to hot water has been a blessing.
  • Business cards: I haven’t handed out many of these, but have been glad to have them when I needed them.
  • Pens: It’s amazing how many places I’ve stayed where I couldn’t find a pen. I’m happy I brought a bunch and have one in every bag.
  • Highlighters: I use them to mark routes on my town maps. A luxury item, but one I’m happy to have.
  • Power adapter: The most precious thing on my packing list and the one I take especial care to make sure I’ve packed when I move on from somewhere! I had a scare in Bulgaria once that I had left it behind when I had four hours of work to do with a deadline in six hours and only one hour of battery time left on my computer — so no time to get to Sofia to find a new adapter! I always triple check that I have the adapter and it travels in my purse, along with my Phone/iPad cable.
  • Passport, driver’s license, proof of health insurance: All very important, of course! I haven’t had to use the health insurance, but it’s something that was very important to my host here in Spain that I have.
  • Change purse: I only carry in it the money for the day and it works pretty well, but I’ve rued it in countries like Serbia that don’t really use coins and it’s hard to sort through folded bills!


  • What I need to run my transcription business, including an unlocked phone. I won’t be going into detail about what’s going into the electronics bag: The only thing “extra” that I haven’t used is my Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter to hardwire myself to the Internet. I’ve been delighted with the fact that my pared down office has worked so well and that I’ve redefined functionality when it comes to my transcription equipment and workspace.

In short, I packed really well! Clothing-wise, yes, there are a few colder weather things I haven’t worn yet, but they take up so little space that it doesn’t matter. I’m not tired of my colour scheme, just the tee-shirts, and hope to replace them with something more stylish while I’m in Spain. They were perfect for my Bulgarian summer, however. The pieces I brought offer me a surprising amount of variety and I don’t feel like my wardrobe is as small as it is. Work-wise, I’ve been able to stay productive with what I brought with me.

This was my first time attempting a long trip with relatively minimal packing and I’d call the experiment a success!