This winter we decided to make it a work season. We usually enjoy celebrating Canada’s coldest season simply by not being here. Hockey lovers, skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, cross country skiing lovers and all those other winter pastime people are pretty much crazy in our minds. Sure, if you’re stuck here anyway you should make the most of it and provided the weather is nice all of those can be quite enjoyable. We however, would much rather be just about anywhere else during the season of snowstorms, windchill warning days and “the greyness” as we like to call it.
Kamloops actually gets a lot of sunshine compared to Vancouver and the lower mainland however we’ve found this winter to be abnormally bad. To be honest it’s the main reason we don’t live in Vancouver or the coast right now. No matter the temperature, if we can’t see the sun we don’t do well. Vancouverites will usually disagree and say that the warmer temperature is worth it and you usually only need a light jacket (correction, rain jacket) to get around most of the year. Though I could go on about that all day, this post isn’t about that.
As I was saying earlier Micki and I decided that we would stay in Kamloops for the winter this year. Cole is really enjoying his friends in Grade 1 and we decided to put some money away for our next awe-inspiring adventure. Micki had a nice contract in place and we rented a nice house in a nice part of town. Kamloops is great in that it has almost every amenity and store you could want but due to it’s size you can pretty much get anywhere in under 20 minutes. Kamloops also has the distinction that it has water access, is surrounded by mountains and that we can get to 4 different lakes within 30 minutes door to door in the summer. It’s also on the Coquihala and is only 3 hours from Vancouver and less than 2 to Kelowna.
Since we were trapped here for the winter and Micki’s contract was scheduled until May we decided that a short warm vacation was in order. I’ve posted about our love of the quickie all inclusive 1 or 2 week all inclusive vacation before and we were thinking that we would just do one this year. There’s nothing we love more than spending months on the road really getting to know a place and it’s people however this year we didn’t have the time or luxury. It’s almost sad that when our bank account is at it’s highest we’re landlocked to a desk.
I shudder to think what other travel bloggers think of all inclusive resorts but frankly I just don’t care. After months of making meals, cleaning up after 2 young kids and generally following a boring pattern of day to day living the thought of premade meals and buffets with something everyone can agree on without having to lift a finger or spend an extra dime sounded quite appealing. It wasn’t our 6 month travel plan of last winter but it would go a long way to making winter living tolerable. Besides, all you can drink fruity alcohol concoctions is a reason in itself for all inclusive travelling and my poor liver has been unemployed for far too long. 😉
So that all being said, we started our search for the best deal. Around that time we had been talking with some friends from Calgary about going on a joint holiday together. They were some of our closest friends while we lived in Calgary and to be honest we haven’t spent nearly enough time with them these past few years. As all great adventures start, this one started with a “Hey, we should all go to Hawaii” post a few months previous on Facebook. We didn’t think they were serious but it turned out they were ready and willing to go.
When we touched base next it became a plan of sorts to head out together towards the end of January. As a group we discussed other possible locations but it sounded like we were the only ones wanting to do a Mexican or Caribbean all inclusive holiday. After a few more days our dreams of being served free Margarita’s by a pool evaporated. In it’s place was the one location we had all originally commented on, Hawaii.
Micki had been there years before she had ever met me but for everyone else we were Hawaiian newbies. It’s always been on my list of places to see (and hell maybe even a possible future home) however I always thought I’d go for a few months, check out a few of the islands and then decide how much I liked the place. That definitely wasn’t happening on this trip though it was an excellent double opportunity to “get my feet wet” as the saying goes.
Within a few weeks we had agreed that we were heading to Waikiki. Definitely not the best place to get a true island feel but for the 10 days that we were going it would serve quite nicely as a base for touring the island of O’ahu. One of the nicest things about Waikiki and Honolulu was that it was direct flight from Bellingham, Washington. Bellingham is actually a little closer to us than the Vancouver airport and it has the added benefit that we don’t need to pass through TSA with the kids which is always a hassle. Instead, we could cross the border hours before take off in the comfort of our SUV. That really appealed to all of us. Unfortunately, things never go quite as smoothly as planned while travelling…
The first problem was that Micki’s contract ended somewhat abruptly right before Christmas. She had another 4 months to go however the company decided to let go of any contractors not working on mission critical projects. Unfortunately, she was working with several teams at the time and was therefore not in the right group. Financially it wasn’t a big deal for us however we had to make the call whether a short, rather expensive vacation for the amount of days travelling was worth it. It wasn’t so much that we didn’t want to go to Hawaii but now we had the opportunity to go for a much longer time for not a lot of extra money.
One of the first things we learnt while travelling was that the longer you go, the cheaper it is relative to staying home. Of course it costs more when you include lost income but for the most part, rent, food and transportation are the biggest costs while you travel. Whether you stay for a week or a month the airfare doesn’t really change. Insurance will cost a little more but if you’re fit and healthy insurance doesn’t cost that much to begin with. The cost of staying in a nice hotel for a week is fairly similar to renting a decent condo for a month and the condo has the added plus that you can make your own meals. The cost of eating 3 restaurant meals a day for a week is probably more than self catering in a condo for a month and even if the price was more you would still need to eat regardless if you were on vacation or at home.
We got an amazing price for all of us to fly out of Bellingham but right from the start we knew that this would be one of our most expensive trips minute for minute. When every minute that Micki took off equalled a minute of not getting paid it made sense to do a quick, adventure packed, expensive mini vacation since we would be getting the most for our buck. Once the gravy train was derailed though, 10 days in paradise looked like a money losing proposition.
In the end, we opted to keep to the plan anyway. There were just too many reasons to change it at that point. The biggest were that we were looking forward to spending time with our friends, it would have cost a premium to change our flight plan, we would have had to do something with our cat for the month, the place we’re renting in Kamloops is costing us decent coin to begin with, etc, etc, etc…
By booking a few months in advance, we ignored one of our principal traveling mantra’s. To never book too early or lock ourselves in too tightly. I know a lot of people think differently and plan months and sometimes even years in advance. A lot of time they’ll quote you how much they saved by booking early or how it guaranteed them so and so and how it gave them such piece of mind not having to worry about it. Knowing that we’re locked into something so far in advance has the opposite effect on us. We see it as a limitation. By booking too early we’re forcing ourselves into committing to a set agenda that may or may not be relevant in two or 6 months from then. More often than not changing or cancelling a reservation can have serious costs associated with it.
For the most part this mantra has proven effective for us. There were a few times (like looking for a place to sleep around Christmas holidays in New Zealand a few years back that almost left us sleeping in our car for a few days) where it would have lessened our stress if we’d booked ahead but on the whole I think we’ve done well. Of course, you have to realize that we’re not pack animals. Usually when the herd heads right we head left. If we were planning to hit Mardi Gras or someplace specific at a time when we knew it would be crazy busy we would of course book ahead. Hawaii in late January would have been busy but not on the scale of too busy if you get my meaning.
So now that we had confirmed our travel plans, there wasn’t much more to do than wait for our trip to get here and do a little reading on all O’ahu had to offer. It was shaping up to be a nice trip and we were looking forward to sitting on a beach and having a long catch up with good friends. The biggest hurdle we had yet to face was the Coquihalla.
For any of you that aren’t familiar with this area, the Coquihalla is a section of highway created years ago to speed the travel of those wanting to get to the west coast a little quicker. Because it wasn’t considered a necessary highway and basically took you a similar route as Highway #1 (the Trans Canada highway) when they built the road they chose to finance it’s construction using tolls. Though toll highways are fairly common in the states, there aren’t that many in Western Canada. Though the toll was removed a few years ago, the Coquihalla is still there and is the quickest way west. In winter, it’s also known as one of the most dangerous routes in Canada.
We knew from what we’ve read and from people we’ve met that the road can get a little treacherous in the winter time. With that in mind we watched the weather network religiously the week leading up to our departure. There was bad weather coming a few days before and a few days after but up until we left we were to have a nice ride to Bellingham. We were always ready to leave a day earlier if it looked like the weather would go sour but thanks to 3 different weather sites we would be in the clear.
That was totally true right until the point we woke up to see a winter wonderland the morning of our departure. Well, it would have been a winter wonderland scene if we could have seen farther than the end of our driveway. Kamloops was in a full on blizzard! Everything was booked by now and we needed to leave regardless of the weather if we even had a hope of making our flight. With that in mind, we got the car and kids ready (as well as a ton of extra winter wear in case things went sour) and took off. That was minutes after I severely twisted my knee on the ice while chatting up our neighbor less than a minute from pulling out of the driveway.
Between the blizzard and my swollen knee it was an interesting departure. Now as I look back I see similarities between this and our crazy Philippine departure a few years ago. That time we got t-boned on the way to the airport during a freak blizzard that wasn’t supposed to exist either. That is an epic post I should talk about someday but getting back to this trip I’ll just say that we made it to Bellingham in one piece with an extra hour to spare.
It was a nightmare of a drive I have to say though. We literally saw two accidents happen right before our eyes as well as at least 4 other vehicles sitting in a snowbank. We hit snow, ice, sleet, black ice, freezing rain, driving rain, regular rain and even hail in those 3 and a half hours it took to get to the border. At one point we were literally pushing snow with our bumper. I’m glad we took the 4×4 and not our car otherwise I’m doubtful we would have made it.
I’ll be posting our adventures in Hawaii and Waikiki in the next few posts but I’ll leave you with a few lessons I learnt from this adventure:
1. Never book too early or over commit yourself without knowing all the costs.
2. Don’t drive the Coquihalla during a snowstorm.
3. Never trust a weather forecaster