The pandemic has dramatically transformed the way many of us work, mostly for the better.
When Media Profile’s President Alison King first introduced the Work Away Benefit during a virtual staff meeting in 2021, we saw dozens of little squares with jaws collectively dropping on our screens. Needless to say, the entire agency was pleasantly caught off guard.
The next day just happened to be a gathering for Toronto MPers and would be the first time the three of us met each other in person. That night, the room was abuzz with chatter about everyone’s dream Work Away destinations. Alison asked Meghan where she wanted to go, and without missing a beat, Meghan said, “Paris,” the city she had dreamed of visiting since Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Passport to Paris. Shawna half-jokingly jumped in and asked, “Can I tag along?” Another MPer, Katie, said she would also join if Italy made the itinerary. Because why not travel across the globe with colleagues you just met in person for the first time, right?
Although nothing was set in stone that night, perhaps there was an element of whimsical “this could actually happen” energy in the air. The three of us eventually began planning the trip of a lifetime that would take us from colleagues to friends just nine months later.
We spent the first three weeks of our European sojourn working remotely, taking one day off a week to explore; we reserved the fourth and final week for our group vacation. For the first two weeks, we stayed in Paris, France, followed by two days in Naples, Italy, and the remaining 12 days frolicking around the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, using Sorrento as our home base.
A painting of the view from our Paris apartment window next to the real thing
Here are a few travel tricks we learned along the way:
Venture off the beaten path: When you visit a new place, your immediate thought may be to hit up all the places you’ve seen in the movies, but those hotspots will more than likely be filled with tourists who probably had the same idea you did. Know that no matter where you travel, you are not missing out if you venture off the beaten path. There are hidden treasures tucked away in every direction—all you have to do is find them.
When shopping, we passed on the high-profile designer areas like Triangle d’Or or Champs Elysées. Instead, we hit up small local boutiques scattered around Paris for souvenir jewelry and fashion purchases. While we made sure to visit a few popular restaurants, some of our favourite places were small restaurants with positive online reviews. Choosing these hidden food spots ensured we didn’t have to wait in line to feast on authentic French cuisine that was magnifique. As far as activities throughout the day, what’s more “off the beaten path” than going 135 feet underground to walk through the historic Paris Catacombs? We also learned all about the history of French fashion at the Dior Exhibit while gazing at hundreds of exquisite designer gowns, jewelry and makeup, all set aglow under captivating lighting designs.
Even when we wanted to visit somewhere “touristy,” we did it unconventionally. Instead of taking a standard Versailles walking tour, we opted for a bike tour adventure. Since Versailles is so big, tourists who visit on foot rarely get to see the whole estate, but exploring it on bikes allowed us to see parts of the gardens that only 15% of visitors get to see. Special moments included sipping wine in front of The Hameau de la Reine, getting a history lesson from our 23-year-old Irish tour guide Alan and having legs that felt like jello after cycling approximately 10 km.
Splurge a little: While planning our month-long stint in Europe, a common traveller dilemma challenged us: Which experiences are worth the splurge and which aren’t? Cheap eats, stays and flights are obviously good for your wallet, but it’s important to remember that a splurge can make or break an experience—not to mention enhance the overall enjoyment of your trip.
While on the Amalfi Coast, we toured the picturesque island of Capri. We decided to pay up for a small-group, private boat tour of the island and said ciao to sweaty throngs of tourists and congested ferry lines for a breezy, sun-filled escape.
Highlights included tanning on our private boat deck, plunging into the crystalline waters of Capri’s rocky shores and sipping limoncello while watching the sun set over the tranquil sea. Let us tell you: That dreamy day was well worth the extra euros!
Compare that experience to our disaster day at Pompeii. We took the commuter train from Sorrento to Pompeii to save a few bucks and attend an archeologist-led group tour of the ancient city ruins. Although we planned to arrive at the site 20 minutes early, local Italian commuter trains are not known for their reliability. After squishing into the sweltering, overcrowded rail car, the train broke down not even 10 minutes into our journey. We managed to find a cab driver and paid over 90 euros to arrive over half an hour late for the tour—too late to join, unfortunately. We could only laugh at all the mishaps as we tried to navigate through the enormous Pompeii ruins sans archeologist. The experience wasn’t a total bust. Meghan ended up giving us a “fake news history tour” of the Pompeii site, making us snicker at her elaborate backstories for all the artifacts we saw. Still, we could have saved ourselves some stress by paying for a private transfer to arrive on time.
Our trip taught us that splurging wisely is definitely worth it, especially when you have limited time balancing exploring and a work schedule. You have to make the most of your downtime by maximizing your comfort and fun.
Pace yourself: It can be easy to get so caught up in the small details that you forget to see the bigger picture and let yourself enjoy every moment for what it is. After spending nearly nine months planning the trip of a lifetime, we’d be lying to ourselves if we said there wasn’t an underlying pressure to make every moment perfect.
Hellbent on seizing the day, we didn’t miss a beat after landing in Paris. Jetlagged and hungry, we dropped off our bags and went straight to the Louvre, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the perfect spot to start our touring. Standing in line, we couldn’t believe we had made it. It felt like a dream and despite being tired and mildly disoriented, there was an overwhelming sense of excitement among our group. The three of us were ready to take on the world! Or at least, Paris.
Exactly one hour later, we crashed.
It was an early lesson that no matter how much we wanted to do and see and experience, we’d have to pace ourselves if we were going to maintain energy to make the most out of our month-long trip. We knew then that in order to have a great time, we’d need to find ways to relax and cut back on the stress and anxiety of trying to force perfection.
Here are some useful tips for pacing yourself during a long-stretch adventure:
- Let yourself sleep in. Yes, we had limited days to explore the city. But, forcing ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to “make the most” of our trip was one surefire way to burnout.
This doesn’t mean we slept in every day. We simply gave ourselves grace periods between big activities, which helped us juggle work and travel without sacrificing wellness.
- Start your day with a latte. Fun fact, our trip was actually a Europe-wide search for the best latte disguised as a Work Away. Jokes aside, looking for new places to get a coffee and breakfast was a great way to start our day with a low stakes exploration of our neighbourhood.
We tried to schedule activities later in the morning or early afternoon on work days, so we had plenty of time to get up, freshen up and stop for a latte. The ritual also helped us establish a routine in an otherwise irregular day-to-day.
- Put FOMO to rest and choose your adventure. With only two weeks in each country and busy days with work, we were never going to see and do EVERYTHING on our lists. So, when it made sense, we would gracefully opt out of an activity that would have only added to an already long day.
While we always planned to stick together, there were times when it made the most sense to split up and save our energy for the activities we were most excited for.
- Go ahead and eat out! Having a kitchen in your Airbnb is great, in theory. With the best of intentions, we went grocery shopping to cut back on money spent eating at restaurants. Ultimately, we couldn’t pass up the beautiful and culturally diverse eateries in the streets of Paris and we spent most of our meals trying their different cuisines.
Sure, this tip isn’t ideal for travelling on a budget, but after a long day of touring, the last thing we wanted to do was cook a meal. Paris also has Uber Eats, which we indulged in on several late nights when we didn’t have the energy to whip something together.
Chill the f*** out. When all else fails, crack a joke and remember you’re in Europe! It could be worse. Planning is important, but keeping a light and fun attitude when everything falls apart is even more essential to an overall positive experience. Remember our fun Pompeii story? We can look back at the experience and laugh, because despite the frustration and disappointment, we kept calm and made the best of a bad situation. In the end, nothing was ruined and we all had a fun day despite the setbacks.
Our favourite trip memories at a glance:
- Sipping limoncello on a private sunset boat ride from Capri along the Amalfi coast
- Soaking up the Italian sun and going swimming as much as possible
- Navigating the extensive Paris Metro system
- Trying to communicate with our downstairs neighbour in Paris who only spoke French
- Petting every dog and cat we met
- Thinking that the cover charges on the bill for our first dinner in Italy were food items we didn’t order
- All 3 of us squishing together onto a small couch and under a blanket to watch a Netflix true crime docuseries on a laptop
- Seeing the Eiffel Tower in the distance for the first time from the train station
- Making cameos in each other’s work meetings on days where we all worked from the kitchen table
- Undoing all the hard work we put into getting used to the change in time zones by having an *incredible* day nap
- Eating grapes off the vine in Marie Antoinette’s garden
- Seeing THE waterlilies at Claude Monet’s house
- Having dinner with one of our co-workers who happened to be honeymooning in Italy (Looking at you, Alyssa!)
It was such a gift to be given the opportunity to see the world as part of our jobs. Our trio was a mix of seasoned travellers, wanderlust seekers and people who thought they’d never see the world beyond North America, so we are incredibly thankful to have been able to make the MP Work Away benefit a reality. Working abroad was an experience we are so lucky to have been given and what remains is the special bond the three of us will always have.
The Paris Girls
Curious to learn more about MP’s adventures abroad? Stay tuned for future Our Take #PassportToMP blog posts where employees will share their work away experiences..