Monday 15 November 2021

48 Hours In Stratford, Ontario - 2 Day Itinerary


Stratford Ontario Avon river

The quest for local travel continues, and my latest adventure finds me in Stratford, Ontario. I have never been to Stratford, but have always heard stories of its beauty and how it's one of Ontario's most picturesque towns. After having a friend move to Stratford and gush about not only how beautiful it is, but also how much there is to do there, I had to experience it for myself. My mom and I jumped into my car and made the 2 hour drive from Toronto to Stratford to stay the night and experience what the city had to offer. I can say that while my expectations were high, they were not only met but exceeded! We had such a good time exploring Stratford and while I had originally thought that 2 days, 1 night would be more than enough, I feel like be barely scratched the surface on what to see, do and eat! Here's our full itinerary on how we spent 2 days, 1 night (48 hours) in Stratford, Ontario.

The Restaurant at The Bruce Dining Room

Leaving Toronto at 10:00 AM to arrive in Stratford at 12:00 noon

Lunch at The Restaurant at The Bruce

After escaping the madness of Toronto traffic, we enjoyed a peaceful countryside drive to Stratford, Ontario and had lunch on our minds as we arrived. Our first meal of the trip was enjoyed at The Restaurant at The Bruce, a showstopper restaurant located within walking distance to Stratford's theatres with a focus on local suppliers and white-glove service. The restaurant itself is located within The Bruce Hotel, which sits on six and a half acres right in the heart of Stratford. We dinned on fresh lobster BLTs, a delicious charcuterie board that included local cheese and meats and enjoyed incredible service - even starting with a hot towel to relax and refresh before our meal! The Restaurant at The Bruce is one of those treat-yourself, celebratory spots that is best enjoyed in good company when you want to feel like royalty.

Stratford's Chocolate and Christmas Trail

Having never been to Stratford before, we appreciated having both The Chocolate Trail and The Christmas Trail to not only guide us in exploring the local goods that Stratford has to offer, but also to help us orient ourselves in Stratford's large and historic downtown. 

The Chocolate Trail is a self-guided tour that introduces you to our world- famous confectioners and bakers - and trust me, there are lots to discover! You’ll get to sample decadent treats and meet the makers who craft these indulgences year-round. $30+hst buys you 6 tickets that are able to be redeemed from a vast list of chocolatiers around the city, many of which are within a short walk from one another. The value is enormous, and I'm still eating chocolate from our trip - over a week later! You may also wish to listen to an audio tour to help with your Chocolate Trail experience, narrated by local musician Dayna Manning.

I was delighted to find out that Stratford is known for their amazing shopping, and The Christmas Trail allows you to discover the city's local shops and offerings! The seasonal holiday trail runs from November 1 until December 20th. It’s a retail focused trail; $30 plus HST and allows participants to choose 6 stores from a list of 26 to redeem a holiday themed gift!

Both The Chocolate Trail and Christmas Trail are available to purchase online, to then be redeemed at the Destination Stratford office at 47 Downie Street (a very convenient downtown location.) Or you can simply pop into the office during their opening hours and purchase both trails on-site.

While you're out enjoying both shopping trails, you may want to find a cozy café to warm up in, get a caffeine boost and plan your route! We enjoyed grabbing at cups at Balzac's in downtown Stratford, their very first location!

Take A Scenic Nature Walk Along The Avon River

After shopping up a storm and orienting ourself in the downtown area, we had a bit of time before checking into our hotel for the evening. The Avon River runs through Stratford and is positively stunning this time of year with the changing fall leaves and colours! The River itself provides a lengthy walking and bike trail, which we enjoyed to walk off all of our chocolate indulgences.  

You can also walk or drive along the river and visit Tom Patterson Island to admire our Lights on Stratford, a beautiful summer pop-up light display! The Winter Festival of Lights will be coming to Stratford beginning December 17 until Jan 28, 2022.

Check Into The Edison Inn

Did you know that Thomas Edison lived in Stratford, Ontario? Not only did we just learn that fact on our trip, we became immersed in the history of it when we stayed at The Edison Inn, a boutique hotel full of personality with 3 eclectic rooms right in the heart of Stratford! We actually stayed in the Edison Room, which was so cool! I loved the unique design of the hotel, as well as how hassle-free the experience was. You receive an email with the door code and your room code on the morning of your stay, and have the owner's contact information should you need anything. Amazing! Our hotel stay also included free parking and because it's so centrally located, we kept the car parked the entire time and explored 100% on-foot.

The room itself offered many practical amenities, such as an in-room coffee machine with large mugs, a mini fridge and freezer and a proper bathtub as well!

Enjoy Dinner and A Nightcap

Getting a preview of how exciting Stratford's restaurant scene is during the day, I was very excited for dinner and drinks out. We dined at The Alley for dinner, a Stratford institution that has recently gone an overhaul with a whole new concept and menu. The food is asian-inspired fusion, and the flavours and portion sizes were incredible. My mom and I wanted to try a little of everything on the menu, so we enjoyed 3 appetizers, 2 mains and were so stuffed that we had to pack the majority to-go! I would recommend the Bao Bun and the Bo Ssam, so so good! 

After dinner, we were able to drop off our to-go containers at The Edison Inn (one of the major conveniences of having a hotel that is so centrally located) and headed to The Relic Lobby Bar,  a neighbourhood cocktail bar that has Cuban-inspired design. The atmosphere is warm, inviting and cozy and the energy was great! We both really enjoyed our cocktails, which were crafted with care and expertise. I would definitely love to return on my next trip.

Because both the restaurant and bar were within close walking distance to our hotel, we leisurely headed back to The Edison Inn for some rest after a busy day. 

Day 2

Breakfast At The Edison Café

As if The Edison Inn couldn't be any more incredible, they have Edison's Café Bar located right at the base of the building! That means strong and delicious espresso-based drinks and a healthy breakfast was just what the doctor ordered to fuel us for another day of exploring. Their menu is mostly plant based and their baked goods are grain, dairy and refined sugar- free. We chose to eat in the café, but you could also take your meal to-go to eat in Market Square, walk down to the river to eat on a picnic table,  or even take to go and enjoy in your room!

Visit Gallery Stratford

Visit one of Ontario’s longest operating public art galleries, which is free for the public and has lots of parking! Founded in 1967, the Gallery has established itself as one of the region’s leading art galleries, organizing exhibitions of local, national and international visual artists. We really enjoyed the highly curated collection and exhibits that were being shown during our visit, and even got to experience a Virtual Reality art piece - something I've never done before!

The grounds of Gallery Stratford are something else, and were a must-visit during the changing of the leaves during Fall.

Grab a To-Go Lunch For The Road

Although we could have stayed in Stratford for for the full day and enjoyed another dinner in the city, we wanted to hit the road to avoid the inevitable Toronto traffic. While our original plan was to enjoy one last sit-down meal before our drive, we were still way too full from breakfast! Thankfully we had heard amazing things about Sirkel Foods, touted as the best takeout sandwich, salads and soups you'll ever have! I'm THE sandwich gal so I was game to try. Listen, when I tell you that these sandwiches and salads are amazing - and the portions are huge! My mom and I actually ended up eating our lunch fare once we got home back in Toronto and both couldn't believe how much food there was - we even had enough to feed my husband! I would 10/10 recommend.

After two days in Stratford, Ontario, both my mom and I agreed that it wasn't enough. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this picturesque city in the fall, and can only imagine how beautiful it becomes in the winter and during the holiday season. I'm a big fan of Stratford and am so glad that it's always just a short drive away from Toronto. We'll definitely be back!

What do you think? Have you ever visited Stratford, Ontario? Let me know!

xo Joëlle 


Monday 1 November 2021

5 Worst Money Mistakes I Made in my 20s

One of the topics I really want to talk about here in my blog is the business aspect of blogging and freelancing, as well as money management. Now, I know money is an uncomfortable subject to talk about, but it is a fact of life. The more comfortable you become in speaking about it, the more successful you tend to be in terms of accumulating money and living comfortably. So, in the spirit of money management and financial gains, I’d like to share the big mistakes I made with my money in my twenties, which have definitely taught me some really great lessons and have shaped how I deal with money now that I’m in my thirties.

Leasing and Buying a Car

Cars are such a precarious investment, I learned. They basically depreciate as soon as you drive it off the lot. When I leased my first car, I thought I was saving money because I have lower monthly payments. But in actuality, I didn't consider its long-term effects. 

Before I continue this story, though, it’s important to note that when you lease a car, you only get a finite amount of miles you can use. Now, for the first couple of years that I was leasing my car, I was only driving it to and from work, so I wasn’t using it that much. But then, I went back to school and had an overall two-hour-long commute. 

Long story short, when my lease was up, I had gone way over my allotted miles. So, it made much more sense to sell it back to the dealership and buy brand new, which is another huge mistake. I financed this new car for five years, and I was paying way more interest. By the time I paid it off and was ready to sell, it was basically worth nothing. 

Now our family only has one car, which my husband and I share. We bought it used off of a dealership, and it saved us so much money while still giving the benefits of a new car. I wish this is something I had known in my early twenties, but it was also a big financial lesson for me. If you’re thinking of getting a car, just be aware that it’s not necessarily the best way to invest your money, and I hope you will not repeat my mistake.

Living at My Means

What this means is that all of my monthly earnings went to paying my living and everyday expenses. This includes rent, groceries, going out, and everything in between. Back then, this didn’t seem like a big deal, especially since I’m not going in debt and I could afford everything I needed to buy. But, I've learned as I've gotten older that it’s really crucial to live beneath your means and save up, especially if you want to live a comfortable life. This way, you have a cushion, should anything happen. 

While living beneath your means isn’t as exciting as spending your hard-earned money on more things you like, it’s crucial in building up good savings to give yourself that allowance if things don’t go according to plan (because, guys, life doesn’t always go according to plan!). This wasn’t something I was thinking about in my early twenties, and as a result, I started saving for my future a lot later than I could have been. 

Goal-Based Savings

This goes hand in hand with my previous mistake. Now, I did save in my early twenties—I would use the majority of my earnings for my lifestyle and also save a little bit of a nest egg, but it wasn’t for anything long-term. My savings were always for a particular tangible goal, product, or experience, and never for future planning.

One instance was when I used all my savings to cover my summer trip to Europe. I didn't have any plans for that money over and above that trip. Once it’s over and I got back, I was back to square one. 

While I did get into a habit of saving in my twenties, that money was always doomed to be spent and I would start at square one again. Now, when I look at my savings method, it's so much easier to have a savings plan that’s going towards retirement or a rainy day fund. But, I also have savings for anything tangible I may want in the future. 

Buying for Specific Situations / Situational Shopping

We can't talk about money or money management without shopping habits. When you're young, it’s definitely very tempting to just go and blow your money on anything. And, a big mistake I’ve learned I made in my twenties is that I would do situational shopping. Meaning, if I had a party coming up, I would buy a dress for it, and it was a one-and-done thing—buy the dress, wear it to the party, discard said dress, move on. The same thing goes for anything material, too. 

On top of my disastrous money management, I also found that I curated a very disjointed wardrobe with this habit—I bought cheap, fast fashion clothes, which were disposable and bad for the environment.

Now, in my thirties, I've learned to be a little bit more mindful with my shopping. I’m more apt to buy a dress and wait for a certain or multiple locations to wear it, as opposed to buying a dress for only one occasion. When I started implementing this, I found that I've saved so much more money, and I'm less likely to make poor financial decisions.

Eating Out for All Meals

I spent a lot of money on food in my early twenties—and I’m not talking about groceries. I worked as a waitress and a bartender, so I was in restaurants all the time. Because I was working really crazy hours, I ate the vast majority of my meals out—and I don't have to tell you why that is a bad financial decision. It is so expensive to eat out, even if it seems inexpensive at the time. That’s basically money you're never going to see again.

Another detriment to that is I really didn't learn how to properly cook for myself or do groceries—you know, tangible life skills. These came a little bit later for me. 

Choosing to pay for convenience definitely comes at a price. I'll be honest, I still struggle with this “eating out” issue on a weekly basis. I feel like we eat out way too often, but we certainly eat at home a lot more, and I saved so much money than before.

I like to think I have learned a lot from these experiences and, while I'm certainly not perfect, I've continued to learn. It's always nice to look back at what you did before, just so that you don't make the same mistakes. It’ll also help to shape you into being a bit better of a saver and money manager moving forward. 

While money is definitely not the most fun topic, I think it's important to get the dialogue going. The more comfortable we are talking about money and finances, the more mindful we become when we think about these things, and that just leads to a more prosperous future! So, what about you, what are some mistakes you made—or are even making now—in your twenties? What lessons have you learned from it? Let us know in the comments section!

Xo Joelle 

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