Lead a Fuller Life

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Lead a Fuller Life

Make the most of your days on this planet. How? By doing these 25 things.

1. Live in a different location for six months

Sometimes you just need a change. If you’re feeling antsy or want to experience a new culture, then moving to a different city – perhaps the place you’ve always wanted to live – for six months is a great way to shake things up.

Before you move, though, look into visa requirements and health insurance. If you’re moving to another Canadian locale, then you’ll need to meet residency requirements before qualifying for provincial coverage. If you’re moving out of the country, you should purchase travel insurance for expatriates.

As for your house, consider hiring a house-sitter. Websites like MindMyHouse.com or TrustedHousesitters.com pair responsible folks – everyone’s vetted by the sites – who are looking for a new experience with people who need someone to look after their place while they’re gone.

Where should you go? That’s up to you! Pick the place you’ve always dreamed of visiting.

2. Build a house in a foreign country

You don’t have to be the next Mike Holmes to build a house, especially for someone who really needs a place to live. Think about spending your next vacation in a foreign country building an abode for a family in need.

One group that offers this sort of adventure is Habitat for Humanity. Groups travel from Canada to locations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America and South America and team up with local families or groups to build homes or schools.

You provide the enthusiasm and some cash: the trip’s $1,300 to $2,000 price tag pays for lodging, food and supplies. Airfare is additional.

While you won’t spend the week basking in the sun, you will develop friendships with local citizens, build upper-body strength by mixing cement or carrying bricks, and come home with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

3. Go to a Stanley Cup final game

Whether you’re a lifelong hockey fan or just root for your hometown team, there’s nothing quite like the energy at a Stanley Cup final. So splurge on tickets for one of the most important sporting events of the year. The only thing more Canadian might be wearing a toque as you drink some maple syrup while curling.

4. Expand your brain by learning Portuguese

It’s probably been decades since you learned a second language – likely French in school – but diving into a foreign dialect can be a great way to spend your time. You get to learn about the history and culture of another country’s language, and then you’ll be able to converse in something other than English on your next trip.

Of course, there are a lot of languages to choose from, but consider Portuguese, which is spoken in a number of developing African nations like Angola and Mozambique and is similar to French. It’s a growing language – Cactus, a U.K.-based language school, says enrolment in Portuguese classes has risen by 107 percent over the last five years.

5. See the polar bears in Churchill

Travel by air or train to Churchill, Manitoba (you can’t drive into the town), and hop on a tundra buggy to see the hundreds of polar bears that gather on the western shores of Hudson Bay. The ideal time to visit is in October and November, when the Bay freezes and the polar bears head out on their seal hunt. Visit EverythingChurchill.com to book a trip.

6. Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg

Canada’s newest national museum, and the first outside Ottawa, opened in Winnipeg last September. The vision of the late Izzy Asper, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights examines how the concept of human rights has evolved throughout history and looks at where we’re going in the future. While there, be sure to take in Winnipeg’s many sights, including the Forks, which was once a meeting place for the region’s indigenous peoples.

7. Stay at Quebec’s Ice Hotel

It’s always fun to stay in fancy hotels and world-renowned resorts, but if you’re looking for a different type of vacation, then visit Quebec City and stay in a hotel made entirely of ice.

The Hôtel de Glace is a 10-minute drive from downtown Quebec City. It’s like an igloo on steroids – a real 44-room hotel sculpted anew every single year from crystalline ice and thickly packed snow.

With artfully carved suites, a gorgeous chapel, a slide, hot tubs, a bar (the glasses are made of ice, too) and beds warmed with furs and fireplaces, it’s a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons.

There are other ice hotels in Sweden, Japan and Norway, but the Hôtel de Glace is the only one in North America. Bookings start at $269 per person, though there are often promotions. Interested visitors may want to book soon – the hotel only takes reservations from mid-January to mid-March. After that, things get slippery.

8. Reconnect with a long-lost friend

A common wish many express as they age is the desire to reconnect with old friends, long-lost family or even a childhood sweetheart. Thanks to Facebook, where users over 50 are among the fastest-growing demographics, doing so is easier – and less awkward – than ever. If you’re nervous about reaching out, just remember, that old friend might be thinking about you, too.

9. Run a marathon

Nothing feels better than running a marathon. Not only is it good for your body, it’s one heck of an accomplishment, too. Most cities have their own marathons, but many people also head to Toronto to run the Toronto Waterfront marathon, where the Canadian records for the fastest men’s and women’s runs were set. Want to try something really tough? Run the Yukon Arctic marathon in frigid February.

10. Take a National Geographic photography tour

National Geographic photographers are among the best in the world when it comes to taking shots of travel, nature and wildlife. So if you’re an amateur photographer with a yearning to improve your skills, why not sign up for a tour that combines the best photographers and the best destinations?

National Geographic Expeditions offers a selection of trips aimed at photographers. You can take street photography in Paris, go on a photo safari in Tanzania or embark on a visual adventure across Bhutan.

Trips are designed with photographers in mind – excursions are timed for the best light, for instance, and special photo shoots might be prearranged – and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to garner tips and feedback not just from the pro photographer accompanying your group, but from the other picture-taking enthusiasts on your trip as well.

11. See aboriginal sites

Want to see Canada from a new (or, rather, very old) perspective while supporting First Nations businesses? Our country’s aboriginal tourism industry is booming, so now’s the time to book, say, a cultural boat tour off northern Vancouver Island (aboriginalbc.com) or a fishing excursion in maritime Quebec (quebecaboriginal.com).

12. Learn survival skills

Whether you’re preparing for outdoor adventures or just want to get yourself out of a jam, think about taking survival skills training. Courses with Inside Out Experience (insideoutexperience.com) near Canmore, and the Great Canadian Adventure Company (adventures.com) across the West, teach first aid, bushcraft, plant identification and even log cabin building.

13. Spend NYE in Times Square

Revellers have been counting down to the crystal ball drop in Times Square since New Year’s Eve in 1907. Today, about a billion people around the world catch the spectacle on TV, and about a million come in person. Where better to ring in the New Year than at this iconic locale?

14. Get serious about chocolate

Looking for a new activity to master? Then try something that’s not just fun, but tasty as well. At Montreal’s new Chocolate Academy – it opened in November of last year – students learn all there is to know about this savoury sweet.

Chocolate making is a romantic activity for couples and a fun thing to do with friends.

Sign up for workshops in everything from pairing chocolate with porto and Portuguese tapas to recreating favourite childhood desserts (with a twist) or crafting chocolate-box-ready filled pralines. Go enough times and you may even learn how to sculpt something as jaw-dropping as the four-foot chocolate statue presiding over the lobby.

Chocolate making is a romantic activity for couples and a fun thing to do with friends. Beginner classes at the Chocolate Academy start at $45. If you live out West, learn the basics with master chocolatier Bernard Callebaut at Papa Chocolat in Calgary.

15. Tour Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a perennial must-do item. Its iconic rings of standing stones were built some four or five thousand years ago and have been a source of fascination for centuries, primarily out of awe for the masterful ancient engineering techniques that were used, but also because of our hazy understanding of the site’s original purpose. It’s now thought to be a place of burial, ancestor worship and healing.

The site, which is located two hours west of London, recently received a bit of a makeover. The former parking lot and information centre were razed and replaced with a new visitor centre much farther from the stones, complete with explanatory exhibitions, a gift shop and café that make the journey much more pleasant.

Come on your own and explore before taking the shuttle to tour the complex, or book a half-day special-access tour (stonehenge-tours.com) to get inside the inner circle of stones at sunrise or sunset with a knowledgeable, entertaining guide.

16. Visit the Galápagos Islands

This stunningly lush Ecuadorean archipelago is a world-renowned national park and a biological marine reserve. Its unique birds, fish, turtles and other species, which are found nowhere else on earth, led Charles Darwin, who sailed there in 1835, to develop his theory of evolution. If you go, choose a travel company such as Adventure Life, which supports conservation efforts.

17. View the northern lights

Everyone needs to see nature’s coolest light show at some point. The lights are best viewed away from city lights on cold, dark nights in the planet’s polar regions, but under the right conditions the phenomenon can also be seen in places across the country.

Some destinations specialize in the aurora borealis experience. In Iceland, go on northern-lights-viewing Jeep tours, or book packages at Yukon’s Inn on the Lake, where you can snowshoe onto the lake to watch the lights dance around the night sky.

18. Bike across the country

If you want to see Canada’s every nook and cranny, then take a cross-country bike trip. That’s exactly what Vancouver-based chef Ned Bell did in 2014. He spent 11 weeks cycling from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Vancouver. He saw everything from the cliffy Cabot Trail in Cape Breton to the ski-slope-steep cobbled streets of Quebec City and the Terry Fox statue on Courage Highway in Thunder Bay. “It was extraordinary,” says Bell, “physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

19. Travel to your family’s place of origin

The question “Where are you from?” can have many answers – some people identify with their ancestors’ country of origin, others with another part of Canada where their family first laid down roots. Either way, the act of going to another place and retracing your personal history can be an incredibly profound experience.

Whether it’s planning a trip to Europe to your grandparents’ old hometown, going to Asia to explore the culinary traditions that inspired your mother’s cooking or looking up lost relatives on the other side of Canada, physically connecting to a place that you or someone in your lineage once called “home” can make for a fascinating journey of self-discovery.

If you’re interested in genealogy, take a copy of your family tree and visit some of the towns and villages where your ancestors may have lived.

20. Drive all of historic Route 66

While Route 66 is no longer officially part of America’s highway system, you can still drive this legendary road – it was one of the first U.S. highways built – from Chicago to Los Angeles. Stop at the many outstandingly kitschy motels and restaurants along the way. It’s not the fastest route across the country, but it’s a great trip for 20th-century history buffs and scenery junkies.

21. Eat at the best restaurants in the world

Every year a new “Best Restaurants” list appears. How many times have you actually visited places on these lists? Not many, probably, so it’s time to treat yourself to an epic meal. Some faves include Noma in Copenhagen and the Wolf in the Fog in Tofino, B.C. If you need more homegrown ideas, download the enRoute Eats app. It’s loaded with resto recommendations.

22. Publish a memoir

When Andrea Gauthier self-published her memoir, she offered it to her daughter Heather with a note: “I don’t want you to be like some, who find a journal after their parent has died, and say: ‘I wish I had known this.’”

Gauthier, who wasn’t a writer, but wanted to share her stories, was able to leave a precious legacy to her offspring, which is something anyone can do, too.

If you’re a confident writer, start with the Five-W questions – who, what, when, where and why. From there, redraft until your story takes shape. Dictation apps can take care of typing; memoir-writing workshops can help you find your voice; a ghostwriter can commit your memories to paper with professional flair.

Self-publishing companies, such as PublishMyMemoir.com, help with everything from ghostwriting to design to printing. Packages start at $500. If you’re comfortable handling most steps, publish with Blurb.com for as little as $12.99. The hardest part? Making sure you stop putting it off.

23. Join a non-profit board

If you’re at the point in your career where you’re ready to give back, joining a non-profit board is a great way to volunteer your time.

Many local organizations are looking for accountants or lawyers to sit on their boards, and there is a need for communications, marketing and fundraising experience as well.

Ask around the community to see what boards might need help or visit BoardMatch.org, a website that matches non-profit boards with candidates who have skills to offer.

24. Enroll in culinary school

It’s one thing to cook a meal for friends, it’s another to blow them away with culinary-school skills. Most cities have cooking schools where you can improve your knife techniques, figure out which herbs and spices pair well together and learn how to make a perfect white sauce. It’s a great way to have fun while improving your personal dinner menu.

25. Follow your favourite band on the road

We’ve all heard jokes about diehard fans following the Grateful Dead around North America, but those Deadheads may be onto something. Following that band you grew up listening to can be an incredible experience, especially for people who gave up listening to music years ago, when life started getting busy.

By following an artist either for a few nights in a row or in specific cities on their tour, you’ll be able to hear more than just the hits. Artists such as Bruce Springsteen or U2 – acts that have a lot of touring fans – tend to mix up their set list every night.

Part of the fun is meeting fellow fans who are just as into the band as you are. Many people have made lifelong friendships at concerts and they reconnect every few years at shows. Make it more of a travel experience, too, by seeing the act in a city that you’ve always wanted to explore.

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