When Grand Cache, Alberta, native Pam MacNaughten started her blog SpunkyGirl Monologues two years ago, it was a way to cope with her grandmother’s illness. Bonding with her grandmother before she died inspired Pam to live life to the fullest and she struck out to travel the world less than a year later (first stop: Thailand) and hasn’t looked back.
Since then, Pam has become an inspiration herself, especially to solo female travellers, via her round-the-world blogging from Mongolia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Cuba, France, Cambodia…the list keeps growing. She also writes for CheapOair’s Canada blog and has been published on UpMagazine.com and on BootsnAll.com.
In 2012 she’ll be travelling along the Silk Road from Xi’an, China, to Istanbul, Turkey, as well as launching a charitable project called Photolanthrophy.
In between continent-hopping, Pam spent four months recently in the Canadian Rockies while working for Explore Rockies. She has lived in various cities and towns in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, is based in Toronto when she’s not travelling and calls Vancouver her second home.
You recently spent four months in Banff. What was your most memorable experience or best wildlife sighting?
I decided to go for a drive before work one morning and drove along Highway 1A between Banff and Lake Louise. During my drive I saw two grizzly bear cubs in a field, eating. I stopped to have a quick look, but when the bears started to wrestle and play with each other, I couldn’t leave. I stood there on the side of the road for almost 30 minutes watching them.
Could you give us some lesser-known must-dos in Banff? Or is there anything that’s perhaps over-hyped but still worth doing?
Believe it or not there are a lot of places in Banff that have not been over-hyped:
- Everyone needs to go to Eddie Burger Bar and drink a Trash Can, as well as eat a burger and some fried pickles.
- Pack a picnic on a nice day and drive to the Mt. Norquay lookout. Park your car, and walk out onto the mountain to eat. The views of Banff and the valley are amazing from there.
- Go fishing or scuba diving at Lake Minnewanka. (Did you know there is an abandoned town down there, under the water?!) I say fishing because the fish from Lake Minnewanka taste amazing.
Where were you born (or where did you spend your formative years) and what is one thing everyone should know about your hometown?
This is a really hard question because I moved around so much. Orangeville, Ontario, where I lived three separate times as a kid, was (from what I remember) a town that loved hockey. During local games the hockey fights were usually in the stands, not on the rink.
Tell us your favourite place to relax in one of the places you’ve lived in Canada.
I spent a lot of time at the Wild Mushroom Bar & Grill when I lived in Niagara Falls. I used to take backpackers there all the time and had the opportunity to get to know all the staff. I’m still friends with many of the staff and look forward to seeing them again later this month.
After travelling abroad, have you learned anything about Canada that you didn’t realize before?
We eat a lot of processed food in Canada. I never really thought about it before. In Asia they don’t sell a lot of processed foods and I end up eating a lot of raw whole foods. When I come home though, it takes about two months (of painful stomach cramps) for me to get used to processed foods again.
As a travel writer how do you quickly size up a place and figure out where to go, what to cover, where to eat?
I do a little bit of Googling before a trip, and look for “spunky” things to see/do/try. Most times I wait until I’m there and ask locals, hostel workers and fellow travelers. If the place has a great vibe within the first few hours, I stay. If it doesn’t. I move on the next morning.
What are some things about what you do that not everyone realizes?
Travel writing/blogging is a lot of work. It’s an amazing job, which I love, but there is also a lot to do behind the scenes before I click the “publish” button on a story. I’ve also met some absolutely amazing people as a travel writer/blogger.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received as a travel blogger and/or world traveller?
It’s your trip. Whenever I have a frustrating day, a friend of mine always reminds me of that. Everyone’s travel style is different. As long as you’re happy and you’ve had the experiences that are important to you, don’t worry about what others think. It’s your trip, so go have fun in your own unique way.
What three things do you always travel with, gear-wise?
I always have my Macbook Air, a small jar of Nutella and a camera. I use to travel with a Nikon D60, however it was stolen in Zanzibar back in August and I haven’t been able to replace it yet. I’m currently shooting with my iPhone 4.