Authors and co-founders of Chic Savvy Travels: A Backpacker’s Guide for Grown-Ups, Vawn Himmelsbach and Tanya Enberg use their website as a platform to tell women (and savvy men) the world over that it’s never too late to embark on an adventure, even after exceeding the stereotypical backpacking age.
Based in Toronto, Vawn and Tanya keep busy schedules in addition to updating Chic Savvy Travels. Vawn writes travel and business articles for magazines, newspapers and websites such as CBC.ca, Flare, and Metro News. Tanya is a freelance writer and editor who has spent years covering hard news, entertainment and lifestyle for daily newspapers, and is currently working as a researcher for a crime series on the Discovery Channel in the US.
The pair launched their website in January 2011.
What inspired you to start Chic Savvy Travels, and what was the vision for it?
TANYA: The inspiration for me was independence. With newspaper staff shrinking and more work being downloaded onto those of us still on the daily print ship, I was feeling the need to revive the passion for what I wanted to do my life. I met Vawn on a press trip and within a couple of hours I’d rambled out my plan to start a travel site. A couple of months later we had a business meeting over burritos and went to work.
VAWN: I found there often wasn’t a venue for the types of [travel] articles I really wanted to write. Travel is inspiring, but it’s also challenging. The site allows me to address those topics, such as traveling with emotional baggage or how fear can dictate your experiences when you travel, instead of just where to eat or where to sleep.
Who would you say your website is for?
TANYA: The website is for the post-backpacking crowd. Backpacking in your early 20s is a rite of passage, but then it vanishes. People graduate, start careers, families, buy homes. Yet, if you’re someone who truly loves travel, the urge to discover new places doesn’t dissipate once you hit 25. Our readers tend to be females, roughly 25 to 50-plus who still want to live—and travel—adventurously.
VAWN: I left my job to travel when I was 27, after six years of working in the magazine industry. At the time, it seemed crazy—this is something that people usually do before or after university. So the idea behind the site is that it’s never too late to travel, and you don’t have to stay in hostels with people half your age if you want to see the world. Really, if I can do it, anyone can, and that’s what I hope to convey in my writing.
How much of your life do you spend travelling?
VAWN: I usually travel about once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. This year I’ve probably spent about four months traveling on and off, including Colombia, Panama, Aruba, Hawaii and Vienna.
TANYA: This year, so far, I’ve traveled to South Africa, Barbados, Sweden and have done a bunch of local getaways. Generally, I do between three and four larger trips a year and plenty of smaller ones.
You write about global travel, but you’ve travelled quite a bit in Canada as well. In Canada, what would you consider to be:
…an underrated place or attraction?
VAWN: For nature-lovers, the northern Prairies [where I grew up] offer untouched wilderness unmatched in many parts of the world: hiking in boreal forests, camping in the wilderness and swimming in pristine lakes—often without ever seeing another human being.
…a truly memorable meal?
VAWN: Years ago in Montreal I had savoury crêpes filled with roasted pear and melted Brie, drizzled with maple syrup. I can’t remember the restaurant, but I certainly remember those crepes. In terms of “Canadian” food, you can’t beat Canoe in Toronto.
TANYA: I had one of the most enjoyable meals of my life in Kingston, Ontario. It was a gorgeous summer night at a restaurant called Chez Piggy. The food was great, the service spectacular and the staff was amazing to my sweet dog Maggie, which is always appreciated.
…something surprising about a Canadian destination?
VAWN: I think the most surprised I’ve ever been while traveling in Canada was in Nova Scotia. Some friends and I were waiting to cross a street, we were waiting for a break in traffic so we could jaywalk, actually, but we didn’t get the chance. Drivers there actually came to a stop and waved us across. At first I was skeptical and suspicious. Coming from a big city, drivers are more apt to speed up. I was stunned and humbled by the politeness of the people in Nova Scotia. Life didn’t seem to hurry by [there].
Is there anything you appreciate more about Canada after travelling so much outside its borders?
VAWN: What I’ve learned to appreciate most after traveling in hot, humid, tropical locales is winter. After growing up in northern Alberta, I never thought I’d actually want to take a vacation in the snow. But when I lived in Asia, I missed winter. Over the last couple of years I’ve tried lots of cool outdoor activities [in Canada], such as night snowshoeing in the woods, with a headlamp as your only source of light.
You both live in Toronto: What are the three things you’d definitely do with a friend who was visiting?
VAWN: I’d take them for an espresso in Little Italy, to TIFF Bell Lightbox for some art-house cinema, and to Chinatown for a foot massage and Singapore noodles.
TANYA: Chinatown is a must. It borders Kensington Market, which is an area worth perusing for its vintage shopping, cheese shops, wicked coffee and arts scene. But the one place I think should get more attention from the City of Toronto, the people living here and visitors, is Little India [aka the India Bazaar]. It has some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. Anyone who visits me is going there.
What is one of the most important budget travel lessons you can share?
TANYA: People don’t often realize what you can get for a buck. They mistakenly think all hostels are party zones with foul sheets and cruddy beds, but they are so wrong. I’ve had some amazingly luxurious stays for under $15 during my travels. Some of the best places were in South Africa, where I traveled from Cape Town to Johannesburg and over to Kruger National Park. The stays along the way were comfy, clean and had spectacular views.
VAWN: I’ve been a budget traveler long before starting this site, and I’ve learned that money (or lack thereof) isn’t an inhibitor. I traveled through Asia on $100 a week, and stuck to that budget for 14 months, yet never compromised on what I wanted to do.
In order to stick to a budget, first you have to come up with one. I research my destination in terms of costs, figure out how much money I actually have and then divvy that up into a daily budget. Each day, I put my daily budget into my wallet and leave the rest in a hotel safe or money belt, which helps keep me on track. However, I always have a bit of “fun money” for unplanned excursions or shopping.