Embracing singleness

valentine's day

Today's post certainly isn't the conventional travel guide. Instead, I'm bringing back some commentary from my early days of blogging.  

A couple years ago, I wrote an article for "The Everygirl" about how to embrace being single. Every year since, as Valentine's Day rolls around, I always feel compelled to share it again (largely because I still get emails from readers this time of year who are newly single and asking for the link). 

This year that I speak of in the article where I put dating on a shelf entirely to focus on myself was one the best things I've ever done. At the original time of publication, I'd only been single for about a year (after basically 11 back to back years of monogamy). Today, I'm three years into single life and I can honestly say it's only grown to be more fun.

Because of the time I took for myself, I developed the confidence it takes to start my own business, live out of a suitcase and travel the world without needing anyone else to hold my hand while doing it.  It allowed me to approach dating (when I finally got there) with a lighthearted sense of ease instead of a eager state of desperation. It's made me more in touch than ever with who I am and what I really want out of life. So whenever the time comes that I do find love again, I'm more confident than ever in my ability to be a great partner. And until then? I'm more content than ever loving the life I've created. 

So if you happen to find yourself single this Valentine's Day, I hope you'll find a bit of perspective and encouragement from this piece. 


 

 

EMBRACING YOUR SEASON OF SINGLENESS

Yesterday I realized that this week marks exactly one full year that I’ve been single. This may not sound like a big deal, but coming from someone who was a serial monogamist (I’d been in relationships for the 11 years prior), it was a pivotal realization.

But what I’m especially proud of isn’t merely the fact that I’ve been single—it’s how I’ve been single. In today’s world of TinderBumble, and everything else, there are endless ways to never be alone. Sure, you may not be in a committed relationship, but just swipe right a few times and soon enough someone is readily available to text with as often as you so please. At least, until you’re sick of them and ready to move on to the next option.

Don’t get me wrong. I think dating apps have the ability to connect people, and I have no doubt stellar relationships have been formed this way. However, they can also make it far too easy to distract yourself in the interim from grieving or growing before you move into your next relationship if you're not careful.  So for the last 365 days, I’ve put dating on a shelf entirely and made a conscious effort to show up 100% to my season of single.

For starters, it hasn’t always been easy or fun. There are things about being someone’s companion that I absolutely loved and sometimes being single feels straight up lonely. But as equally as I’ll confess to that, I must also emphasize that it’s been pleasantly surprising and a little underrated.

So whether you’re just entering this season or you’ve been sitting in it for a while, here are some things to remember and celebrate about embracing exactly where you are.

 

Now is the time to focus on YOU.

How many times have we heard that cliché? But man, is it accurate. When someone first uttered that phrase to me I had to close my eyes to hide that they were rolling with annoyance. But there is so much freedom in this truth. Ever hear someone say they wish they’d moved to a new city? Or learned a new language? Or backpacked through Europe? People are dripping with regret for their lost dreams and quite often the culprit is a laundry list of responsibilities and obligations that stood in their way.

But as a single? The world is your oyster. Move if you want a change. Use your evenings to take a language class. Save some money, quit your job, and travel Europe for a bit if that’s what you really want. There are literally no valid excuses to not be fully chasing after the life you want to build.

This is the time when you’re allowed, hell, encouraged even to be selfish. Embrace it.

 

It’s really OK not to be dating.

Friends, family, and even colleagues have asked me dozens of times if I’m dating anyone. The question can feel uncomfortable if the answer is “no.” But try to remember that their intentions are almost always pure. Without pointing fingers or making generalizations, a lot of people think the solution to losing a love is to find another. And while most of us would agree we’d like to again at some point, I’d argue that there is a lot more out there for you to discover before simply finding another relationship. So fight the urge to over explain or agree to a date simply because people are asking. At the end of the day, they just want you to be happy. But only you know what is required to make that happen. Date when you feel ready and excited about it—and not a moment sooner. You’ll be doing both yourself and your future partner a favor.

 

Discovering who you are is exhilarating.

Relationships are about compromise, and that sacrificial gesture is a beautiful thing. But you know what else is pretty awesome? Being able to make all of your own decisions and discovering more about what makes you, you. After years of agreeing on restaurants, movies, and things to do, there was something so very liberating about making simple decisions by myself.

I discovered that I’m a significantly happier person when I’m hiking or adventuring on the weekends instead of always watching Netflix on the couch. Or that I love a good laugh as much as the next girl, but what really lights my soul on fire is someone who is a great conversationalist. Time with yourself is like a childhood Easter egg hunt where you’re constantly discovering treasure after treasure that holds a little surprise you were never aware of before. Eat up that delicious goodness.

 

You are stronger than you think.

So many things are easier with two people involved: household chores, traveling logistics, car maintenance, the list goes on. So when those tasks you used to divide suddenly fall entirely on you, it can feel overwhelming. There’s nothing like a flat tire weeks after a breakup to cue the tears and make you feel defeated. But if you can get past your emotions and self-pity, you quickly learn to suck it up and just get it done.

And suddenly, that self-pity turns to self-confidence. Because you just did that hard thing all by yourself. Channel that inner Olivia Pope badass, because you’ve got it handled.

 

You are already enough.

Whether we say it out loud or not, being in a relationship feels validating. It strokes our ego to have a companion that frequently reminds us that we’re loved, that we’re beautiful, or that we have a place in this world. But the reality is, you already are all of those things. And the more you are willing to sit with yourself and learn who you are (apart from anybody else), you will eventually start to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and know that it’s true without needing anyone else to affirm it.

 

More seasons lie ahead.

In the early days of my singleness, I found myself lamenting to a mentor about how alone I felt. My desires for marriage or perhaps a family suddenly felt so far away. She took my cheeks in her hands and squeezed them sternly. “You have the rest of your life to do that, my dear. But this is your season for adventure.” She then went on to tell me that while she adores her child and her husband, she appreciates them so much more because of the years she spent being single: living in London, exploring the world, and getting to know herself. “This time that you’re cursing under your breath will very likely be the same one you look back on so fondly someday,” she reminded me. “Don’t miss it.”

So while I still look forward to all that lies ahead in my future, I’ve learned to cherish all that I have in the meantime: that my cozy apartment is all mine and mine alone, the ability to go to a yoga class just about anytime that I feel like it, and the beautiful reality that I can move, travel and create any life I choose. 

I’m not against relationships or judging you for your timelines. Hear me when I say that I’m absolutely excited to find love again someday. But I say this with confidence from what I’ve learned: Singleness is a sweet, beautiful place that’s intended to be cherished, appreciated, and fully taken advantage of. It’s our time to become a better person for ourselves and the people we’ll end up with someday. So enjoy it. Drink up all it has to offer, and don’t leave a single drop behind.


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Chicago Favorites

CHICAGO FAVORITES BLONDE ATLAS

It’s no secret that Chicago has been a significant destination for me this past year, and I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it lately. In addition to seeking travel recommendations from those of you who know I moved here last fall (after many failed attempts to get to London), there have also been a lot of you wondering why I haven’t been there in a while now. 

I’ll address both of those questions in this post, but let’s start with the travel recommendations first.

I put a Chicago Travel Guide together a couple years ago prior to ever living in the Windy City. While I still stand by all those recommendations, I felt it was only necessary to do a “deeper dive” into the places that are my absolute favorites now that I know the city significantly better. So no matter what you’re looking to do while visiting Chicago, I’m confident this post pretty much has you covered in terms of any recommendations you might be looking for:

 

 

FAVORITE BOUTIQUE HOTEL: AMBASSADOR HOTEL

ambassador hotel chicago
ambassador hotel chicago il
ambassador hotel chicago il
ambassador hotel chicago

I first came to Ambassador Hotel for a drink at their swanky bar (now Booth One) and I fell in love with the posh, minimalist ambiance of the entire property. So when the time came to plan a little staycation when my friend Sarah came to visit, Ambassador immediately came to mind. I absolutely loved so many things about staying here. For starters, their Gold Coast location is just blocks from Lake Michigan (which means incredible views) and is a short walk to The Magnificent Mile. Rooms are priced very competitively, especially for how nice of a hotel it is. And most of all,  I loved having Booth One (pictured below) as our home base bar- it's one of the most beautiful places to grab a drink in my opinion!

booth one chicago
the hampton social

Call me basic, but The Hampton Social is a brunch-goer’s dream. This nautical hotspot evokes everything there is to love about East Coast summers. In addition to the swoon-worthy decor, they have fantastic coastal fare, delicious and eclectic menu items (try the Fried Chicken and Doughnuts!) and refreshing cocktails to leave you utterly delighted.  This place is popular, so making a booking in advance is recommended. 

 

 

FAVORITE BREAKFAST: BEATRIX

BEATRIX CHICAGO

There’s no better way to start your day than with breakfast, and there’s no better way to start your breakfast than with a beverage! Beatrix has an extensive list of beverages, everything from Bulletproof coffee to matcha to fresh juices to cocktails and even an extensive wine list (they obviously are open for other meals besides breakfast- although no shame in ordering any drink any time of day!) Beatrix has multiple locations in the city (clearly a favorite among Chicagoans) and is a top-notch American eatery. The menu is thoughtfully curated, the ambiance is enjoyable and I’ve always left wanting to come back straight away. Again- a popular spot so a booking in advance is suggested. 

 

 

FAVORITE ROOFTOP: CINDY'S

cindy's rooftop chicago

Cindy's has been a long-time favorite of mine in Chicago, and for good reason. This public rooftop (part of Chicago Athletic Hotel) offers stunning views of Lake Michigan, Millennium Park and the Chicago Art Institute. It has floor to ceiling windows (and actually... the ceiling is glass too) so the place is bright and cheery and flooding with natural light. Aside from the spectacular ambiance, the food is out of this world (but be warned, portion sizes are intended for sharing- so come hungry!)

 

 

 

FAVORITE COFFE SHOP: MAISON MARCEL

maison marcel chicago
maison marcel chicago

I fell in love with everything about Maison Marcel, a quaint French boulangerie + patisserie in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood. It’s European bohemian interior boasts white-washed exposed brick, beautifully detailed wicker chairs and freshly cut baby’ breath on every table. They have a pretty extensive menu (although I always seemed to opt for an almond croissant and cappuccino) and even a juice bar. There is wi-fi and plenty of seating, so regardless of if you’re popping in to meet a friend for coffee, having lunch or needing a remote office for the day, Maison Marcel is sure to please. 

 

SOME OF MY OTHER FAVORITE COFFEE SHOPS? 

PRET-A-MANGER

GASLIGHT COFFEE ROASTERS

INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE

LA COLOMBE ROASTERS

 

 

 

FAVORITE PLACE TO WORK: 3 ARTS club CAFE

3 arts cafe chicago il

Inside of Restoration Hardware in Gold Coast is 3 Arts Cafe, which offers an all-day menu with breakfast, lunch and dinner options. But regardless of whether you actually sit and dine in the restaurant, you are welcome to sit on the couches in the surrounding rooms of the cafe, use the free wi-fi and even order a coffee, juice or pastry from the coffee bar. You simply won’t find a more beautiful atmosphere to work in Chicago (in my opinion). 

 

 

FAVORITE JAZZ BAR: THE GREEN MILL

Green-Mill-Cocktail-Lounge-Chicago.jpg

I have a soft spot in my heart for jazz music and so naturally I was on a mission to find the best spot to hear it live in Chicago. My Aunt and Uncle pointed me to The Green Mill, a swinging cocktail lounge famous for being Al Capone’s favorite bar during the heyday of Prohibition. Now over 100 years old, it’s one of the most prestigious jazz clubs in the world and my favorite spot to drink martinis and listen to a variety of jazz (every thing from traditional to swing to big band). The good music typically doesn’t start until late (we went around midnight) and they stay open until 4am if you’re looking for some after hours entertainment once the bars close. 

 

 

 

FAVORITE COCKTAIL BAR: MAUDE'S LIQUOR BAR

maude's liquor bar
Maudes-Liquor-Bar.jpg

Pretty much every spot on W. Randolph (AKA Restaurant Row) is a winner in my book, but I fell in love with Maude’s Liquor bar: an intimate French speakeasy meets bistro serving some of the best handcrafted cocktails in the city. Their menu offers an array of French classics (including food) as well as an extensively curated French wine list. Whether you stay for dinner or just pop in for a drink, you won’t want to miss this blend of sultry ambiance and sensational cocktails. 

 

 

FAVORITE LUNCH SPOT: EATALY

EATALY CHICAGO

Eataly is obviously not exclusive to Chicago, but it's here nonetheless and thus it makes the cut on my favorites list! This "amusement park of Italian delicacies" is in the heart of downtown and quickly became a regular spot for me to pop in for lunch. They offer an array of cafes, counters and restaurants (essentially dozens of dining options in one place!) Whether you want to do your own grocery shopping to take home and cook a proper Italian meal, or sit down anytime of day to let someone else prepare it for you, Eataly has you covered. I recommend it for lunch because you'll likely be walking around the downtown area at some point if you're visiting, so it's an easy place to pop in and choose from a variety of delicious options. 

 

 

FAVORITE DINNER SPOT: GIRL & THE GOAT

Sundaylife-SLH-071413.1.jpg

Also located on Restaurant Row, Girl & the Goat opened with the goal of serving bold flavors with global influence in a fun and lively setting. They also boast the title of James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes, along with awards from Eater including: Restaurant of the year, Chef of the year, Shaker of the year... the list goes on. Whether you go for a full meal or simply drinks and appetizers, do yourself a favor and just make sure you get there when you visit Chicago-- it's hands down one of my favorite meals I've ever had!

 

 

FAVORITE DISH: PLANTAINS AT LEñA BRAVA

lena brava plantains

My friend Sarah Kate took me to Leña Brava when I first moved to Chicago and I am still talking about these plantains months later. They're wood-oven roasted with butter, thick cream, and homemade fresh cheese but they taste better than just about anything else I can think of right now (I even swiped right on a Bumble guy who was a chef here and my opening line was shamelessly "Can you make those plantains?") It's worth visiting this Restaurant Row gem simply for this menu item (although fear not: nothing else you try will disappoint!)

 

 

FAVORITE SEAFOOD SPOT: OYSTER BAH

oyster bah chicago
oyster bah chicago il
oyster bah chicago
oyster bah chicago il

The food at Oyster Bah blew. me. away. This casual New England seafood spot specializes in cold water Oysters, but they serve way more than just that. Some of my absolute favorite thing we tried were the macaroni and cheese and the coconut cake, but I mean it when I say that everything we had was delicious. The atmosphere is cozy and nautical, the staff is wonderful and on a more important note, the drinks are boozy and delicious!

 

 

FAVORITE ITALIAN FOOD: SPACCA NAPOLI

SPACCA NAPOLI CHICAGO

Both my well-traveled family and my friend Domenico (who is from Napoli) have taken me to Spacca Napoli, so that alone should tell you something! In all seriousness, this Ravenswood pizzeria serves classic Neapolitan pies that will bring tears to your eyes it all tastes so good. It may not be deep dish (see the bottom of my list for my favorite Chicago-style pies!) but I'd argue you'll be far from disappointed to experience Spacca Napoli. 

 

 

FAVORITE CHINESE FOOD: DUCK DUCK GOAT

duck duck goat chicago

If you haven't picked up by the "Goat" title, this sister restaurant of Girl & the Goat (along with Little Goat) is another hit- this time in the Chinese category. Duck Duck Goat offers globally inspired cooking sauces and spice mixes with dishes from Dim Sum to noodles to fried rice and more. My friend Rachel and I split the Dan Dan Noodles with peanut and pork and the Duck Fried Rice on a cold, snowy night and left with full, happy tummies. Per usual, it's a good idea to make a booking in advance to avoid waiting for a table. 

 

 

 

FAVORITE MARKET: CHICAGO FRENCH MARKET

CHICAGO FRENCH MARKET

This European-inspired indoor food market offers a variety of grab and go kiosks with every global food imaginable (although they definitely heavy up in the French category). The decor makes you feel like you've just transformed to Paris and it's so fun to browse around all the different stalls to see what global cuisine is available. 

 

 

FAVORITE CHAIN: LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN

LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN

Sometimes a chain restaurant ain't a bad thing, and that's certainly the case with Le Pain Quotidien, an international chain of organic bakery-restaurants originating in Belgium. There are several locations in Chicago and I often found myself cozied up by a window with a cup of coffee to do some work. It's a great spot to meet a friend for a healthy breakfast or lunch if you're looking for a cozy ambiance. 

 

 

 

FAVORITE SPORTS OUTING: CUBS GAME

CHICAGO CUBS WRIGLEY FIELD

 No surprise here, I'm sure! The Cubs are a Chicago staple and you simply must try to get to a game if you can. Wrigley is so much fun year round (not just for baseball, they also have everything from concerts to Christmas markets here!) Even if you can't make it to a game, be sure to explore the area to see the stadium and imagine what all the excitement must be like on a game day. 

Fun Fact: The "W" flag you'll often see flying originated before the era of smartphones when people were taking the train home and wanted to know the result of the Cubs game. If they won, a W flag would be flying over Wrigley. 

 

 

FAVORITE SHOW TO SEE: HAMILTON

HAMILTON CHICAGO

I've had the privilege of seeing this INCREDIBLE show twice now, once in London and for the first time here in Chicago. It truly is worth all the hype it's received and (in my opinion) is even better than the buzz you've heard. While you can enter the daily lottery for your chance to win $10 tickets, I'd advise against that tactic if you really want to see the show (it took me 3+ months of entering every single day before I finally won). It's one of the few cities (along with New York, LA and London) where you can see this Tony award winning sensation and it's sure to be the highlight of your trip if you do!

 

 

FAVORITE TOURIST SPOT: MILLENNIUM PARK

millennium park
chicago favorites

Paris has the Eiffel Tower. London has Big Ben. Chicago has "The Bean." Millennium Park was originally intended to celebrate the third millennium and is a collection of state-of-the-art architecture, and "Cloud Gate" (aka The Bean) is the crown jewel. You're sure to find tourists crowded around this art installation taking their photo in the reflection, but for whatever reason this attraction has a soft spot in my heart. Even if touristy bits aren't your thing, it's worth walking around this park (you can avoid Cloud Gate if you really must) to see all the architectural variety and well manicured landscaping. 

 

 

FAVORITE THING TO DO: CHICAGO RIVERWALK 

chicago riverwalk

While this is certainly more enjoyable in the warmer months, strolling along the Chicago river is one of my favorite things to do in the city. This pedestrian walkway along the waterfront gives you a front row to some of the best architecture in the city and offers plenty of restaurants and bars to stop along the way for a drink.

 

 

FAVORITE MUSEUM: CHICAGO ART INSTITUTE

chicago art institute

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art collections in the United States. It's home to some of the best-known works in America including: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and Grant Wood's American Gothic. Even if you're not a huge art buff, there are so many fascinating and recognizable pieces in here that anyone can enjoy. I hadn't been since I was a kid and on my most recent trip this winter I was blown away by how impressive it was. If you have the time, I can't recommend it enough (and be sure to have lunch at Terzo Piano while you're there for beautiful views and delicious food!

 

OTHER FAVORITES TO NOTE: 

FAVORITE DEEP DISH PIZZA: LOU MALNATI'S

FAVORITE DINER: AU CHEVAL

FAVORITE BURGER: CHOP SHOP

FAVORITE GASTROPUB: PUBLICAN ANKER

FAVORITE HEALTHY LUNCH: SWEETGREEN

FAVORITE JUICE BAR: LEFT COAST

FAVORITE CHEESE PLATE: BAR PASTORAL

FAVORITE SPEAKEASY: THE VIOLET HOUR

FAVORITE WINE BAR: POPS FOR CHAMPAGNE

FAVORITE NON-CHICAGO RESTAURANT: THE KITCHEN

FAVORITE YOGA STUDIO: COREPOWER

FAVORITE SPIN STUDIO: FLYWHEEL

FAVORITE SPA/ NAIL SALON: COWSHED

 

 

chicago favorites

I'm confident there's other favorites that I'm failing to mention, but there's still another half of this blog post that I need to write! So moving onto the "real talk" about why I haven't been back since I came home to Nashville for Christmas. For starters, I took a two week trip to London and Eastern/Central Europe for New Year's, so that carried me into the middle of January. But for the past couple weeks? I've been staying put in Nashville instead of heading back to Chicago. Why, you ask? Pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in for a minute. 

CORN ON THE COB BUILDINGS CHICAGO

 

It’s really difficult for me to properly articulate all of this, because the past few months have been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster. I’d love to deliver a nice and tidy  summary of everything that’s been going on in my brain, but truth be told there’s nothing too simple about it. In an effort to keep things as succinct as possible, I’ll start with this: while I was falling more and more in love with Chicago everyday, there was also voice deep inside me continuing to grow louder and louder, telling me it wasn’t time to give up on London just yet.

As I started building this new life in Chicago: making friends, dating different guys, discovering new neighborhoods that I could easily call home, it was so easy to imagine the kind of life I could see myself living if I stayed— and it was a really, really great one. I knew this said life could bring me a lot of joy and challenge me in new and exciting ways I was currently craving. But the longer I sat with that picture, I could also begin to see myself beyond the short term giddiness: being settled into a new life that was great, but not quite the one I felt peace about. Deep down, I knew moving forward with Chicago meant I'd be settling on what was easier to achieve or prolonging the work I needed to do if I ever wanted to get to London. Because at the end of the day, building a great life in Chicago will still require my time and energy, and the more of that I put forth here, the less of it I have to dedicate to getting there. 

 

I honestly kind of wish that voice in my gut wasn’t so loud. I love Chicago so much and it was a really emotional departure to say the least. I’ve been mourning the absence of the big city energy it gave me, as well as countless other details about it I really grew to love. And if all the doors to London slam in my face and my immigration lawyer tells me I’ll absolutely never be able to live there, I will scurry back to Chicago faster than you can blink. But as long as I know there’s hope for London (even if that “hope” currently has me feeling like I’m standing at the base of Everest) I feel a burning conviction to pursue it whole-heartedly with everything that I have in me. So until something changes, be it the circumstances that are keeping me from getting a visa, or the desire itself somehow disappears, I’m all in. 

 

I could go into a lot more detail, but the truth is none of it would lead to anything conclusive about what comes next. There’s just a lot of uncertainty ahead. For now, I’m back in Nashville where I can easily coast, which gives me more energy to put my head down and work tenaciously (which I’ve already been doing the past few weeks). I’m more committed than ever to work on not only making the harder, more disciplined choices that will get me closer to my goals (even if they take significantly longer than I’d like them to). 

I’m also more committed than ever to hold on tightly to the greatest takeaway I learned during my time in Chicago: to enjoy the journey. 

If I eventually do get to London I can honestly say I'll be so thankful that it didn’t happen on my original timeline. Because if it had? Chicago wouldn’t have been a chapter in my story. This past season has enriched my life in more ways than I can count, and I almost missed it because I was so stubborn and set in my ways, wishing things were different. 

We often think that happiness will arrive when we finally get what we want and our circumstances change. But at the risk of sounding like a terrible cliché, it’s often the circumstances we’re cursing that God is using to change us. And if our fists are clenched and our knuckles are white because we're so set on finally "arriving" we're going to miss out on countless opportunities to see goodness along the way. 

The truth is, I don’t actually know if this immigration strategy will even work or if I’ll ever successfully move to London like I’ve hoped to for so long now. I don’t know if I’ll end up right back in Chicago. In fact, I could end up living a totally different life than I imagine altogether, somewhere that’s not even on my radar.  But I know with certainty that living authentically and honoring my dream right now is transforming me in the process, and that alone is reason enough to stay on course. Because "where I'm headed" is actually much less about my geographic position and more about  learning to surrender to the (often painful) process of becoming.

 

CHICAGO THEATRE

So that’s the latest in my world. To be completely honest, it’s somewhat painful for my pride to pour out my personal details of endless uncertainty. I love sharing the fun stuff like booking a one way ticket to Europe, but this? Not so much. In fact, I debated sharing any of this at all. But it’s important to me to share my whole story, not just the pretty side of things. I hope that it serves as a reminder that our dreams aren’t merely condensed to the 2 hour timelines we watch play out in a film. Real life transformation that we hope for usually takes months and years of hard work— but I truly believe it’s worth fighting for. So fight for it I will. 

 

How do you eat an elephant, they say? One bite at a time. 

CHICAGO ILLINOIS
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Emerald Lake, Lake Louise and Banff Travel Guide

CANADA

A couple months ago, I ventured to Canada for the first time with Haley, one of my best friends. We've both done a ton of international travel over the years (she's who I lived in London with) but embarrassingly enough, neither of us had ever been to our most neighboring country!  We were both really craving a winter wonderland and Lake Louise had always been on both of our travel bucket lists, so we decided to plan a trip around that destination. We discovered it would be easiest to meet in Calgary (Haley was coming from Jacksonville and I was coming from Chicago) so we flew in and grabbed an Airbnb near the airport our first night (we didn't land until late!) You can find great flight deals throughout the year to YYC through sites like Skyscanner or subscriptions like Scott's Cheap Flights, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled if you know this is a trip you want to take.

There is also so much to do around Lake Louise so we decided to rent a car (with winter tires!) so we could have more control of what we saw and visit some remote "off the beaten path" sights. Our first stop? Emerald Lake Lodge. 

 

EMERALD LAKE LODGE

emerald lake lodge canada

This cozy lodge is tucked away in Yoho National Park (about 2.5 hours from YYC) and is the epitome of magical.  It set the bar so high for the rest of our trip because right off the bat we felt like we were living in a whimsical snow globe! There was fresh powder everywhere and barely any people around. The lodge itself offers century-old fireplaces and an oak bar salvaged from the 1890's. The rooms are housed in separate cozy cabins while the reception and dining areas are together in a separate lodge (this is the only area of the property that has wi-fi). Haley and I had some work to do when we arrived, so we cozied up by the window in the lodge to watch the snow fall, eat some lunch and do some work. That slowly turned into spending our entire afternoon and evening chatting with the staff, ordering multiple rounds of drinks and becoming buddies with them by the fireplace until finally, we braved the cold (and large amounts of snowfall that had accrued) to venture back to our cabin. It truly looked like a winter wonderland with the twinkling lights reflecting on the snow- no photo could properly do it justice. 

emerald lake lodge canada

The next morning we ventured back to the main lodge for breakfast (after having a slow cozy morning in our cabin drinking coffee, watching the sunrise and spending some quiet time with God). After an entire evening of snow, the property looked even more beautiful than it did the night before. We walked around the winter wonderland to take it all in (and naturally, take some photos).

emerald lake lodge canada
emerald lake lodge canada
emerald lake lodge canada
emerald lake lodge
emerald lake lodge canada

I would highly recommend visiting this property for anyone looking for a place to retreat and reset. Don't plan on being very connected to the outside world (as I mentioned, service and wi-fi are spotty) but instead, bring a great book to read and let yourself unplug a little. It really set the tone for the rest of our trip to be slow, restful and reflective. I definitely want to return to this cozy cabin in the future!

 

From Emerald Lake Lodge, we hopped in the car and drove just under 40 minutes to our next destination:

 FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE

FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE

Staying at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has been a long time dream of mine and I was so thrilled to finally see it for myself! For starters, there is hands down no better place to stay in Lake Louise (this is the only property right on the lake!) Haley and I felt a little silly to realize the lake would already be frozen by the time we arrived (we had long pictured the piercing blue waters that Lake Louise is famous for) but we both agreed once we got there that we were so glad to experience it in the winter. There was a beautiful magic so different than what we've previously seen in photos and we were so thankful for the unique experience (and now we have reason to come back in the summer!) 

The property itself is gorgeous and offers plenty to do no matter what time of year you visit. There was tons of ski festivities happening nearby (although we opted to stick to the on-site dining and hiking around the property).

The concierge team was so helpful in pointing us to the overlook path we wanted to hike (and even loaned us grips to strap to our boots so we wouldn't slip!) They were also available to point you to any other activities you may want to book (snowmobiling, skiing- whatever your heart desires!) 

For food, we spent a lot of time in the Lakeview Lounge, which offers incredible views overlooking the lake (along with delicious food!) We both commented how lovely everyone on the staff was. Not only were they charming and hospitable, but they were people from all over the world. We befriended our server from France the first afternoon we spent there and the next night we became fast friends with our Irish bartender. We may have been in Canada, but I loved sharing conversation with fascinating people from all over the world! We also enjoyed a delicious breakfast (also with beautiful views) at Poppy Brasserie one morning and an incredible fondue dinner at Wallister Stube (the fine dining restaurant) one evening. We were so impressed with all of the dining options at the hotel-we never left the property for any meal!

FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE
FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE
FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE
FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE

I would highly, highly recommend staying here for anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing Lake Louise. As I previously mentioned, there's just no better option than being right next to it (plus the property is stunning, the food is delicious and the staff couldn't have been more wonderful). 

FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE
FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE

 

After an amazing two nights at Fairmont Lake Louise, we drove a quick half-hour into the town of Banff to stay at another amazing Fairmont property: 

 

FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS

FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS

Located right in the heart of Banff National Park, Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is known as Canada's "Castle in the Rockies." It's been in business for over 125 years and is truly a once in a lifetime experience, no matter what time of year you visit! While Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was great for the proximity to Lake Louise, Fairmont Banff Springs is ideal for those wanting to be close to the town of Banff. Staying here put us close to dozens of wonderful restaurants (the property alone has dozens and the town has even more!) Some of the ones we experienced included: 

AT FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS:

Rundle Lounge: A beautiful place to relax and enjoy Banff's best mountain views. We loved sitting here for drinks one afternoon to take in the scenery around us. 

STOCK Food & Drink: We popped in here for coffee + snacks a few times, but our most memorable treat was hands down the dressed hot chocolate. 

IN THE TOWN OF BANFF:

The Maple Leaf: We loved coming here for drinks and charcuterie (Canada has some seriously incredible meat so this was a great place to sample their variety). It had such a cozy ambiance and the staff was fantastic!

Saltlik: We had an amazing dinner here one night (with a cozy lodge-style ambiance). Both of us loved our meals and our server was wonderful too. 

 

FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS
FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS

I would highly recommend staying at Fairmont Banff Springs for anyone wanting to spend some time in the heart of this adorable mountain town. It was a totally different experience than Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise but I really enjoyed both experiences, both properties and all of the staff at both properties that we worked with. 

I was really happy with the way that Haley and I spaced out our time in this region of Canada, so I'd definitely recommend replicating our same itinerary. Starting at Emerald Lake Lodge and slowly working our way back toward Calgary (stopping at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and ending at Fairmont Banff Springs) made for a shorter drive back to YYC and let us see a variety of isolated nature but also a bustling little mountain town. The combination gave us so much beauty to see and a variety of things to do. Some general things to know before you plan a trip of your own? 

  • Be mindful of what kind of experience you want to have. If you prefer activities like hiking or water sports, aim to visit in the summer months. If you want to enjoy a winter wonderland with plenty of snow, aim for the winter. Lake Louise is typically frozen over starting as early as November and doesn't usually start to thaw until June. 
  • Factor in how much time you desire to spend in each place. Haley and I had 6 days in this region but it did feel like the time flew by (we spent a fair amount of time getting to and from each destination- especially with Calgary on the front and back end) so you might want to allow more time if you want to really do all of these places justice. 
  • Remember the exchange rate. Prices may seem astronomical if you're visiting from the US, but the conversion actually works in our favor. You'll end up spending less than what you actually think you are, but regardless it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the exchange rate at the time you're traveling. 
  • Stick to the speed limit. While driving through the parks there were times it was completely empty and it felt like we were traveling at a normal pace. Unfortunately, we were stopped for speeding (and ticketed- UGH!) so be sure you don't make the same mistake that we did!

Any other questions you have about planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies? Let me know in the comments below!

BANFF CANADA

Thanks so much to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and to Fairmont Banff Springs for providing us with an incredible stay at both of your properties! We absolutely loved our time here and hope to be back in the future!

xx

Whitney

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