As part of the next instalment in my international version of Guests’ Corner (previously a local South African travel interview section on Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust), I chatted to Andrea Traynor, lifestyle travel blogger at Mommy Gearest.
Her day job may lie in communications, but, in her free time, Andrea Traynor is one hugely talented and inspired lifestyle travel blogger. And, on a more personal level, when she’s not focused on work or dedicating time to her award-winning parenting site, Mommy Gearest, Andrea is also a loving, devoted wife and mother of two.
But that’s not all, for Andrea is also a self-professed travel addict, brand ambassador, social media strategist and freelance writer, with some 15 years’ worth of PR and communications experience to her name.
To date, Andrea’s incredible work has appeared in The Huffington Post Canada, trekaroo, SavvyMom.ca and TravelingMom.com, as well as a host of popular TV shows and so many other incredible platforms – and this is only listing a few of her wonderful accolades and achievements!
Follow Andrea’s incredible site for some wonderful parenting tips, honest reviews and your daily dose of travel inspiration too – particularly as she and her family love the best of road trips, couples retreats and international travel our planet has to offer!
1) Who or what inspired you to go into travel blogging?
I spent my early 20s living and travelling between Canada, the UK and Asia. I wrote lengthy emails to family and friends to keep them up-to-date on my adventures – and had blogging been a thing back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, that’s exactly what these stories would have been!
Fast-forward to 2012: I started MommyGearest.com out of frustration. As a mom, who has an insatiable need to research everything, I found the Internet sadly lacking in honest, baby gear product reviews. My site was borne out of a desire to give other parents what they needed to inform purchasing decisions. But babies grow into toddlers, who grow into big kids and my site needed to follow along.
Since then, it has evolved to a lifestyle site, which encompasses beauty, fashion, gear and travel for every member of the family. The travel piece was such a natural extension for me because I’ve always been so travel-obsessed and my kids have the travel bug now, too.
But I’ve stayed true to my roots and offer a holistic look at travel destinations, pointing out when everything isn’t rainbows and unicorns, and offering real travel tips with the consumer’s best interests in mind, rather than being marketing-driven.
2) What kind of traveller are you: thrill seeker, culture vulture, adrenaline junkie, nature lover or some of everything?
I’m one of those ‘all of the above’ types. I’ve tried ice-climbing in South Korea, kite-surfing in Aruba, solo tree-top trekking in Quebec and trapeze in the Dominican Republic – and I’m a bona fide foodie, always in search of gastro delights and interesting cuisines!
Landscapes take my breath away and I can do history and culture all day long. At the end of the day, I’m probably best described as a curious traveller; I’m curious about everything and I’ll try anything once.
3) Which are your top three most memorable travel experiences and why? Please list each one with a brief explanation.
1. First has to be moving to the UK at the tender age of 24: I didn’t know a soul, packed way too much and my naïveté got me robbed – twice. I made lifelong friends from every corner of the earth, walked on the same cobblestone my grandmother had as a child, repeatedly worked out at my local gym beside Mel C of Spice Girls fame, experienced heartache and breath-take – and ultimately, embraced the powerful importance of solo travel.
2. Next would be my year in Asia: Based in Seoul as an ESL teacher, I learned the language and reveled in the secretive world of underground markets. I also managed to fit in trips to Beijing, China, just as its Olympic bid win had been announced; learned to scuba dive in Thailand and discovered places like Boracay in the Philippines, where off-the-beaten-path, comfortable rooms (right on the beach) were still $5 a night.
3. My third most memorable experience is my destination wedding in The Bahamas: My husband also spent much of his 20s travelling, and we share an adventurous sensibility, so getting hitched barefoot on a beach was a no-brainer!
This is long before destination weddings were the well-oiled machine they are now – but it was a beautiful day that was part of an incredible week, surrounded by the people who love us most.
4) What was your most humbling or eye-opening travel experience in your home country and why?
Without question, it was learning to ski in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. I was an out-of-shape 40-year-old mother of two who – despite growing up in Canada – didn’t love winter.
Wanting to expose my kids to new sports and activities, we accepted an invitation to discover Tremblant and learn to ski… Humbling is an understatement. I like to say that skiing is the great equaliser; everyone starts at ground zero. And here I was on equal footing with my five- and seven-year-olds.
I fell a lot… Probably cursed under my breath too much… And it was hard! But I took lessons every day and conquered a six-kilometre run by the end of the weekend. I skied every weekend thereafter and eight weeks later returned to Tremblant feeling empowered and confident enough to take on a few intermediate runs.
Since then, I’ve skied across North America from summits reaching 11,000 feet. I still get nervous on new terrain. I still fall sometimes. And I still take lessons whenever I can, two-and-a-half years later.
That weekend was a gift; it gave birth to my family’s favourite winter sport, and the one activity we truly do together.
5) Worst (local) travel experience?
Not local to me now, but, when I lived in Seoul, I had the misfortune of happening upon a father beating his child with a bike lock outside of a grocery store. The kid was maybe five years old and terrified. There was a crowd of people around them doing nothing. I stepped in and after figuring out that the child’s mother was inside the store, helped him up and told him to go to her.
The father was none too impressed with me, and threatened to hit me with the bike lock! I held my ground until another ex-pat quickly explained that I needed to get out of the area quickly because the police had been called and I would be the one arrested!
Trust me: you didn’t want to get arrested in South Korea in the early 2000s. So, heart already racing, I ran.
6) Your top three travel destinations across the globe – either that you have personally experienced or would love to visit?
1. Long before it was commercially developed, Boracay in The Philippines was one of the most intimate, untouched places I’d ever experienced. Perfect sand, clear water for scuba diving and so much local flair.
I visited about 18 years ago and understand it’s not the same today. However, I went to Palawan a few years ago and it reminded me of Boracay in many ways. So, The Philippines remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
2. You really can’t beat the mountain views in Banff and Lake Louise, either. I’ve called it a ‘postcard in every direction’, and that’s not an exaggeration! Being in the mountains to ski or hike is transformative.
3. And since meeting my husband interfered with my jaunt to Australia, that’s still at the top of my list. Of course, we’d have to dip over to New Zealand as well, since my husband is half-Kiwi.
7) Any useful travel sites/blogs that you can recommend for following?
Other than mine, right? Parents, who often travel solo, should definitely check out Solo Mom Takes Flight
World travellers interested in both luxury and off-the-beaten-path experiences would enjoy Globe Guide
And people who are deeply into adventure travel – particularly for biking and hiking – would be wise to peruse Hike Bike Travel.
8) If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
I’d really like to ski in Japan or The Alps.
After a 10-day ski trip this winter to Vermont, I feel like my ski skills really improved. Not only did we have six-plus feet of snowfall inside of a week, creating so much variable terrain, but I also completed 14 hours’ worth of lessons… I want see how it all translates on the other side of the world!
9) Do you have any handy tips for planning a trip/day out in your city (and please state which city it is)?
There’s not much to do in my little town, but Toronto is less than an hour away. It offers some of the world’s best restaurants, shopping and attractions… But don’t drive! The downtown core gets extremely congested and is full of one-way streets, and both pedestrians and cyclists who absolutely do not follow any set of road rules.
The TTC is the underground subway and bus system, and it’s generally quite good and not very expensive.
You can also use Lyft to get around the city easily, and this Lyft code will get you $5 off each of your first two rides. It’s usually cheaper than a taxi and you don’t need to worry about carrying cash.
Shoppers will delight in the boutiques and mini luxury mall in Yorkville. Those looking for stuff with a more kitschy-hipster vibe can head to Queen West. Foodies can go local (think Little Italy, Little Korea and China Town) – or – if their wallets agree – give a gift to their palates by doing the tasting menu at Café Boulud or indulging in bread knots and other fare at Buca.
Everyone should do the CN Tower and stand on its famous glass floor. Check out a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game or Toronto Raptors basketball game, and don’t worry about picking the cheap seats – that’s where most of the fun is had with those in the stands! If you can get your hands on Toronto Maple Leaf tickets, be prepared to spend big bucks…
Ripley’s Aquarium is pretty incredible, and I like its commitment to education and research. Every person who works with the sea life there is a marine biologist and the aquarium doesn’t house any mammals. But get tickets online ahead of time or you’ll be disappointed.
There’s also the Royal Ontario Museum with its amazing exhibits, dinosaur collection and an entire floor dedicated to kids’ activities. On Tuesdays, general admission to the museum is free to full-time students attending a Canadian post-secondary institution. And it’s always free to Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
Stay at either the InterContinental Yorkville or InterContinental Toronto Centre, depending on your plans.
10) Best travel advice for locals and tourists?
Pack light. It sucks carting around more stuff than you need.
My signature move is no checked bags… If you have to check it, you’ve got too much. (Here’s how to pack using only carry-on luggage.)
Photo credits: Kristen Recalis (lead image) and Andrea Traynor (body images)
To read about and see all of Andrea’s travel stories and experiences, you can visit her awesome blog. Or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.
Thank you very much, Andrea, for appearing in this guest travel segment.
Author: Tamlyn Amber Ryan
Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.
Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.