A-Z Travel Tidbits To Take!

A: ppreciate your surroundings! The only regret I’ve ever had is not living in the moment when I’ve been at a place; often times I have a laundry list of places I want to visit and lose purpose of the whole point I’m there… to enjoy & create memories!

B: ring layers when packing! Yes, it may 80 degrees when you get there, but what happens when Mother Nature decides instead it’s going to rain and you have nothing to wear, CA-CHING! Money is spent, and nothing is worse than spending your “fun money” on clothes because you didn’t bring those layers!

C: onvert your money before you leave! Often times the fees associated to converting money at the airport and in the country your visiting can be expensive. Checking conversion fees at various banks before leaving can spread your dollar.

D: o what is on your wish list, or IG likes! We’re all guilty for loving certain photos on social media, and then put it on a wish list, then when upon arrival find other things to occupy our time. Make it a point to do what you initially wanted to do! Live with no regrets!

E: njoy! Be spontaneous and try things you wouldn’t normally try, within reason. Life’s about creating memories and making the most of it!

F: ollow your gut…when your surroundings tell you something is off pay attention. Traveling somewhere foreign is often fun, but it also means that you can become a target. It’s nothing to fear, but when your gut is telling you something become more aware!

G: o some where new! Traveling somewhere you’ve been, or deciding between two tours/things to do… select the one that you’ve not done, or could do anywhere else. Take advantage of where you are, I mean… why not!

H: ave cash, and your debit card in case! Yes, credit cards are now the most common form of payment, but USD is the most universal currency. Even if just $100 bring some cash in case! There were a couple times I assumed credit cards would be best to avoid credit card theft, etc. & the places I was going didn’t accept card, but guess what… USD cash worked even in Spain! P.S. in France you need to pay to use the toilets and more for toilet paper, caa-ching!

I: nvest in good walking shoes. This sounds like common sense, but really. Don’t cheap out. Nothing is more annoying than your feet hurting, and wanting to avoid paid $$ for shoes when you’re already traveling on a budget.

J: ournal your favorite memories! I’ve found that sometimes just writing out at the end of each night what highlights I had helps me better recall the memories! Try it!

K: eep your passport/visa on you. Just for safe keeping it’s better you have your valuables on you, rather than housed in your hotel/Air B&B. Maybe it’s paranoia, but I always worry that I will be stuck stranded in a foreign country with no way home because I’ve misplaced my passport. I bought a spandex belt that has two holes to allow for items to be stowed, and it fit under my pants; in other words, won’t fall out, and I can tell I have it on me.

L: earn popular foreign terms. Learn how to say “which direction is,” “how much,” “please,” “thank you,” “exit,” “can I have,” “yes,” “no,” “what is your name,” “sorry I don’t understand”

M: ake sure to leave earlier than you think for your return flight! Generally, people come back from vacation in the knick of time for work. Make sure to leave plenty of time to get through the airport, security, and to the gate. To save some time, check to see what the normal security time takes at your airport, know which gate you’re at and look at where it’s located in the airport on your way there, and have your pockets cleaned and packed in your carry-on before you even touch foot in the airport.

N: ever try free food being offered. We all heard as kids not to take candy from a stranger, but when we grow up we willingly take everything that is free, AM-I-RIGHT?!

O: rganize what you need readily available before arriving at the airport. This tip comes from being the frantic and panicking one searching for my drivers license/electronic boarding pass when I finally made it to the from the security line. And, this tip comes from being the one annoyingly being behind the person doing what I had done. Just saying! What you need through security: drivers license/passport and boarding pass. If you’re traveling internally, you’ll also need your itinerary!

P: lan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to make your itinerary. The most common regret I’ve heard from people and their travels is when they returned back from their trip they saw a photo of a place they wish they would have seen while there. If you research top places in advance you can pack in the most, and not spend valuable time while there to figure out what’s next.

Q: uickly check if the country your visiting has tips included in the price before going out to eat. (I was going to put this under a different letter, but was struggling with Q words!) You’d be surprised how many countries include gratuity in the food price, not even broken out on the bill so you wouldn’t know. I make it a point to research this before you start eating out to save costs throughout the trip.

R: esearch your flights before booking. You’ll find leaving Tuesdays and returning Wednesdays often times is the right combination to find the cheapest flights. If you try this combo, and do it at least 60-days before your flight you have some flexibility to save a pretty penny.

S: hut off your phone! Live in the moment, be present. Often times we become comfortable with our little 2×4 screen that we forget to look up and see what’s in front of us! I’ve made it a point when traveling to keep my phone on airplane mode and live in the moment, get lost a little, and interact with those around me! It makes for a much more complete vacation/trip.

T: ake photos! I am sure you don’t need me telling you, but take the photos of the places you stop at that you like, the candid captures of people you’re with… those are the storytelling  memories you want to have. Don’t worry the scenic typical IG shot is nice too!

U: se hand sanitizer frequently. Did you know our bodies become more immune to bacteria based on exposure? So if going somewhere new I would suggest bringing that handy dandy $1 travel sized bottle!

V: antage point photos! Get them by taking a photo from a perspective that differs than the one every one else is going. This could mean getting the Eiffle Tower from inside an adjacent building rather than pointing the lens at the tower head-on

W: alk frequently. Use the opportunity while traveling to get in a good exercise by traveling from point A-B, not only is this healthy but it allows you to fully experience the smell, sound, and exhilaration of the new place.

X: erox your itinerary. It’s always good to have extra copies handy. Ensure you have your address written down in both the foreign language and in English! Do not put your room number on the itinerary, keep this in a separate location, I put my room key with the room number in my wallet or in a separate pocket. In case something gets stolen you don’t want someone able to find you!

Y: ou’re on your own for the next two… I’m not that clever! But hope the rest of these have been helpful!

Z:

A Whole Trip in a Carry On!

I have inherited the name “Dora the Explorer,” not because I roam where ever my heart takes me, but because I’ve mastered the skill in packing a 2-week trip in a single carry-on.

Yes, I know from people telling me… most peg me for a pre-madonna who would have not only carry-on(s), but several checked in bags. But, haven’t you heard to not judge a book for its cover! So, how do I pack 2-weeks in a carry on? Here are some cheats!

1. Pack Half of the Clothes You Think You Need

I remember when I first started packing clothes I wanted a variety of clothes and plenty of options. Here’s how to accomplish both:

  • Select clothes that you can mix-match, giving the illusion you have many outfits but you’re really wearing the same clothes in different assortments.
    • If you’re going on a 5-day trip; pack 3 shirts, 3 pants, mix match!
  • Don’t overpack for the unlikely, we all have wanted to pack the shorts & tanks even though where you’re going is only 40 degrees, because we are thinking “well it’s just a tank top” and then find ourselves with 10 tank tops and ended up using on 1 or 2. Am I right?
  • Stack What You Want & Cut it in Half; not kidding. You’ll find when you travel frequent you travel a lot more for the unknown that what’s necessary. Once you think you have everything you need, cut it in half. I bet you get to the number ratio in footnote 1. Just saying
  • Roll Your Clothes; roll your clothes, this allows more! If you’re bringing bigger shoes for carryon, I shove my delicates in the shoes. If you have case of stinky feet put your delicates in a zip lock before shoving them in the bad boy. Swim wear goes in the other shoe.

Here’s what I normally bring for a 5-day trip: 1 swimsuit, 3 shirts (tank tops included), 3 pants/shorts, 2 pairs of shoes (cheat below), 6 undies, 3 socks, and toiletries that will fit in a large-size zip lock bag! I’ll make the toiletries a separate blog, there’s enough madness I have learned through that.

2. Bring More by Wearing More 

If traveling to somewhere cold (even if you’re leaving from somewhere warm), wearing your heavier clothes through the airport will allow you to bring more!

  • Pick 2 Shoes & Wear the Heaviest; Yup! Pack a comfortable pair of shoes and one that you want to bring, wear the heaviest at the airport and lug around on your carry-on the lighter pair. YES, sandals count as a pair!
  • Bring 1 Jacket and Wear it to the Airport; There are certain travel (clothing) essentials you have to bring just in case and a jacket is one of them. Even if it’s 80 degrees outside bring a coat, but wear it through the airport. Plus, this has saved me when freezing in the airplane!
  • Ladies, Extensions… Some of you have asked me when I wear extensions have I worn them through airport security, yes. Do they go off in the scanner, most times. Is it embarrassing when they pull me aside, no. Most airports are equipped with technology that shows where the metal pieces are, and when they see it’s your head they just tap, tap, tap. Because you’re a woman, only women can touch you, so they usually know what’s up, or will give you the disappointment look of FAF (Fake as F*), but just smile! Confidence sometimes has to be bought and if clipping in fake hair gets you there, AYYEEEE you go! LOL

3.  Toiletries & Size Limits

I believe we are down to 3 oz. on what you can bring on the airplane…

  • Purchase the airport approved empty containers from CVS or Walgreens. I usually bring shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. If you need more than one 3 oz. then fill up two with what you already have at home!
  • Next time when you’re getting a haircut as if they have sample size of the shampoos/conditioners of the yummy smelling stuff they used on your hair. Sounds cheap, but seriously
  • Take with you the complimentary shampoo/conditioner a the hotels you stay even i you don’t use them on your immediate trip. You can bring them for next time!
  • Only take with you what you can fit in a large zip lock bag! It makes it easy to take out of carry on for airport security (although I keep mine in my carry on, having it in a zip lock still helps them quickly identify my things in the x-ray.

What I usually bring: tooth brush, travel size toothpaste ($1 at CVS), deodorant, 3 oz shampoo, 3 oz conditioner, 3 oz lotion, comb, mascara, eyeliner, mascara, and chap stick.

Be mindful that carryon requirements differ based on what airline you choose to fly with. This has also been a consideration before booking a trip, because airlines such as Spirit & WOW Air charge to breathe…

If you have additional tips/tricks post them in the comment section!

 

Do You Need a Travel Visa? Tips if You Do!

Although your passport takes you to 174 of the 195 countries in the world, what do you do when you want to visit one that doesn’t meet the mark? Apply for a visa!

When I first started traveling it was easy to select places to go that required only a passport, I mean 174 countries should be easy. And, I’ll be honest I’ve feared booking a trip and then finding out at the airport you’re denied access. Come to find out when you book your flights it will tell you before you checkout if a visa is required, and that’s what happened when booking for China.

Some of the countries that require a tourist (“holiday”) visa no matter how long the stay include the following:

  • China
  • Algeria
  • Brazil
  • Egypt
  • Nepal
  • Vietnam

Before planning your next visit, check out this link to see if the country you’re visiting requires a tourist visa. Also! There are some countries that require a visa is staying an extended time, so be mindful of that as well.

Know, that that you have to have your itinerary complete, with flight and hotels booked before applying for a visa. Sounds odd that you’re investing in a trip before granted access, but it’s true. I have some recommendations:

  • Pay the extra $10 when booking your hotels for the cancellation insurance
  • Purchase flight insurance
  • Plan ahead! For me this was somewhat difficult because I like to plan tours, etc. as I near a trip when I’ve done more research, but this becomes pivotal because planning logistics will become important for presenting your itinerary. Essentially, the embassy is looking to be able to find you and know that you have accommodations in advance of approving you.

What I didn’t know when deciding on China is how much a holiday visa costs! And, it’s not cheap. Especially considering that everything needs to be booked in advance. Prices for visas ranged from $250-600 depending how quickly you needed your visa, and depending on which company.

After doing some research I chose Passport & Visas.

The company had good reviews that mentioned two key words for me… “reliable” & “responsive.” As a frequent traveler, these two words become pivotal in making big decisions. I placed my order 12/2 and received 12/28. There were some questions back from the company during the interim regarding our accommodations and letter of referral (required if you’re not a part of a tour group). The company had very quick response times when following up on my order, and had a good tracker on their website to let you know where my application was in the process (similar to when you order a pizza). Was really quite impressive.

After you’re approved they return your passport with the visa sticker in your passport. Just like that!

Other random facts: 

There’s an expansive list of things you have to have before you even start the application process. I recommend acquiring all the documentation you need before you purchase your order, so that the estimated return time is actual. I found it taking me a half day in getting everything situated to submit for ordering, they included:

  • Small passport photo taken within 6 months– you can get this done at Walgreens or CVS for $20
  • Have to provide your passport, & they will return back after approved or denied access (Passport has to be valid and not expire within 12 months of your visit)
  • Copy of your drivers license
  • Itinerary of where you’ll be on what days and where you’re sleeping
  • Proof of accommodations (that it has been paid, or booked)
  • Completed electronic visa application for the country you’re going (be mindful of what color your ink has to be)

*Some of the requirements may be different based on where you’re going

I will report an update to this post when I return from China, on experience through customs using a visa. But, assume you just have to show evidence of what was presented for visa application!

Where to Go Next? Take a Quiz!

Everyone loves a good self-assessment quiz… so why not figure out where you should go next by taking one! As odd as this sounds, I’ve taken the quiz below whenever I was curious where I should go next… how about you try!

Where to Go Next!

If you’re ambitious, share where your location is by commenting below, if enough people have the same maybe we can make a group travel trip out of it!

Mine… was Switzerland! And, I think the description is pretty accurate!

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 10.46.11 AM

Next Stop…China. But, why?

DiscoverChina

I’ve always contemplated pinning up a map and throwing darts to decide where to go next. Well, wait, I did try that once but ended up being a small country in Europe that when I researched didn’t tickle my fancy, so I ditched the idea. Point is… there’s a reason for the places I pick to visit, and it’s time I start sharing in hopes that one day it will help you, too, decide!

So, why China?

(1) It’s a place I’ve never been; another country to cross off the list!

Fun fact about myself… I consider myself as an introvert to those I don’t know (so much so that I am now a member at Toastmasters to help get myself over the fear of talking to complete strangers). My initial interest in traveling abroad was to accumulate experiences and see, firsthand, places that I’ve never been so that I could relate more to people as I met them. Little did I know I would catch the travel bug after stepping out of the country for the first time, and I realized that traveling is more than relating to people when I returned, but submerging myself in cultures I never knew, and meeting people who live differently than I do. China, is a country I’ve never been and only heard/seen through others’ stories. I’ve been postponing this visit related to costs, and needing to research more about places to visit. I try to avoid visiting until I feel researched enough to not regret going and missing a landmark I didn’t know of…

And, it so happened that the time I was budgeting time off for this trip, landed on the Chinese New Year… I mean, c’mon! I mean if that isn’t a sign, what is!

(2) It’s a place with a landmark that I’m afraid if I wait to see I’ll never see again 

This sounds crazy, but it’s really a factor I consider… with all the crazy that happens in the world, I want to ensure that the places I see first are things that I worry about possibly not sticking around for when I get older. I know, you’re thinking the Great Wall of China is miles long and isn’t going anywhere, so may not be as relevant as other places to visit, but I don’t ever want to live in wondering “what-if.”

I’ll share with you a story…a couple summers ago I had waned to go to Disney World to ride the Tower of Terror. Instead, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter made the list. A year later when considering places to visit I again thought of Hollywood Studios at Disney and found out the ride was transformed to a different ride and no longer exists. Now, I have just the memories from when I was 7 replaying of what it was like when I went on it as a kid, and not relived in my adulthood. I know traveling to see landmarks internationally may not seem comparable, but this is what I fear in places that I visit. If it’s something I fear to be gone and not see in my adulthood, it moves higher on the list. Other places on the list, currently, is Egypt, Italy (I believe in global warming and am fearful the waterways won’t be there forever), and Machu Pitchu.

 

(3) There are multiple places that I’ve accumulated desires to go in the country

Nothing is more thrilling, to me, than visiting multiple places in one trip. Not only does this help give me a well rounded impression of the places I visit, but allows me to check off multiple places without having to go back in the near-future while I visit places I’veneer been.

Generally, I wait until I have a list of 5 places before I book a trip. For China it included: Great Wall of China, Ming Tomb, National Olympic Stadium, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Place and Temple of Heaven. After doing some research, I have found some inspirations for the Avatar movie, and may have to come back and visit! Sounds silly, as I haven’t even got there yet, but I try not to push too much into each day in hopes I can live in the moment and truly appreciate where I am!

*If you’re looking to figure out what not to miss try starting by doing a quick Google search of the place you’re visiting, and see Google’s recommended top places. If you’re looking for something more tailored to your liking search for tours in the area and write down your favorite spots, and pin all the places into a map and create your own self-guided tour!

(4) Affordable downtown hotels/Air B&B’s that are within walking distance of public transit 

Believe it or not, being able to get all the places on the wish list/itinerary needs to be considered before leaving for a trip! How can one travel on a budget if the cost to get to places on the itinerary costs the same as getting there!

To start my search I use AirB&B to see how much rooms are downtown (I generally don’t book unless the room costs are $50 or under), see if there is public transit nearby (see how much it would be for multi-day passes if staying a while), and last pin all the locations you want to visit to see if it’s centrally located. To be most cost beneficial stay at the same place if in the same city. This will reduce the transaction costs for booking, and will save time/costs to transport luggage if you’re not solely a carryon traveler.

I was surprised to see how many options there were in Beijing. I had always heard that the city was very populated, and had made the assumption that going would be very costly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that costs ranged from $20-$400/night. This made hitting my $50 or less budget quite easily! Because I booked it cheaper, I went wild and booked a $80/night hotel in Shanghai the second leg of the trip; I’m being serious!

(5) Flight prices are within $1000 to/return

No matter where you’re traveling around the world, you should be able to find a hotel flight there with the base cost to/from for $1000, or less. It’s all about tracking prices and knowing when to book. A cheat for this is going during the off-season of the place you’re visiting, or booking ahead (3 months or earlier) before leaving on a busy time! The easiest way to track the flight prices is typing in the dates and places you’re visiting through Google.com/Flights> tracking prices!

Additionally, if you’re trying to use points making sure you have a credit card that gives incentives for using the credit card for travel purchases; example is the Delta Skymiles Credit Card; that way, you get discounts for going to places you would anyway, and often times (I’ve found) get double points that allow you to use those points for your next trip!

AMEX Delta Skymiles: You get 2 free checked in bags each flight, up to 70,000 free sky miles for your next trip (I used mine for a free trip to Vegas), and $100 credit card credit if you spend $3,000 or more within the first three months! Here’s a referral link to get the perks above! Apply for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card with this link. We can both get rewarded if you’re approved! Apply Here!

 

 

2017 Top 10 Trip Countdown

At the end of each year, I have spent the time to reflect back to my personal growth, and a lot of it comes with lessons learned through trips, people I’ve met, time spent, and memories made.

That said… here is my top 10 trip countdown!

10. Washington D.C.

If looking to do a weekend trip to see the most popular memorials DC has to offer this can be a weekend trip. I recommending seeing: Lincoln Memorial, then White House, Washington Memorial, and Martin Luther King Memorial. For me this trip made the top 10 because it was a nice reminder that although I have a lot I want to fit in a weekend trip, that being in the moment is most important. This trip I remember dragging on from arrival until 1-2am in the morning, and although all stops on most itineraries were met, there wasn’t a particular spot that I just lived in the moment. For 2018, I’m going to get where I want to go, and spend time there being present. Well, there is a moment with red,white, & blue popsicles that sticks out, and playing at a game bar, but besides the point… haha.

9. New Haven, Washington and Milford, Connecticut

If a Gilmore Girls fan, or just trying to marvel over expensive homes, perfect roads, and quiet beaches, then Connecticut may be for you! This is a fun weekend trip, especially if only for a weekend. The entire state spanned over just three hours, and had lots of cute boutiques and small-town feels.

8. San Francisco, California

I left my heart in San Francisco. This was another city toured by the Big B Bus Tour, which was perfect given that getting nearly anywhere here was hilly, and time consuming! This particular trip stuck out in my mind because I had seen a few things that I hadn’t seen in years, or at all: The Painted Ladies (more commonly known as the Full House, house), Alcatraz, and the downtown Pier area, where there was many small shops and museums. Additionally, the many scenic views from many perspectives reminded and humbled me that although I’ve seen many pictures of the beautiful city, that my vantage point by being present is most valued (for me, so travel on!).

7. The 2017 Eclipse, Simpson Illinois

Never have I ever…been a place where half of America drove to, in order to share the same experience at the exact same time. After going directly to Illinois from work, to camping with work colleagues… this trip is an unforgettable one. This made the top list, as I remember the moon covering the sun and the whole sky go dark, everyone go quiet, and then being humbled that as important as our every day lives are… that we are just a small piece of this entire universe.

6. Miami Beach, Florida

This is definitely a place one must visit… during the day the city has miles of beach that welcomes you to natural beauty, and at night the calm beach vibes turn into a salsa/reggae tunes. There has not been such as a place that has both business, beach, and nightlight moods in one place. On this trip a Big B Bus Night Tour was taken, which I would definitely recommend as it acclimated tourists to hidden areas where celebrities live and guides you through the Havana District where many movies were created.

This trip made the top 10 as nothing went as planned, but ended up being one of my most memorable nights in my travels. The only goal all weekend was to hit the beach and soak up the sun, but a part of planning ahead is the unknown if Mother Nature will cooperate. This time, she did not with there being LOTS of rain that particular weekend. But as the saying goes, “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.” So! That is exactly what happened, fun in the ocean with rain sprinkling. Then ending the night with a evening walk, and the best food and drinks at Mangos!

5. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park is the perfect place to visit if looking for scenic drives and HUGE sequoia trees. If you’ve never seen one it is certainly worth the day trip over to this national park. My fear, is not seeing things I’ve always wanted to see because I chose to wait too long. These trees were a must! To see photos and read in books the huge trunks of these pieces of nature I could only imagine, but now can envision from personal experience! P.S. Take the General Sherman stop, preferably visit before the sun fully rises to enjoy the quiet paths and the sound of your breath as you make it to the biggest tree in the country.

This trip, similar to Miami Beach, reminded me to go with the flow and to accept what can’t be changed in the moment. After a long drive, from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park, with many detoured roads due to forest fires, the destination was made. But what happens when you’re ready to take a first camping experience and you have everything except tent polls. Yes, this happened. Admittingly, my first reaction was not pleasant, and throwing the tent over the windows while the warm 100+ degree weather heated the car causing periodic middle-night car starts, it made for an experience. If not, at minimum a lesson for the basics… I mean who forgets tent polls.. this one. All-in-all it was funny looking back at it, and after spending the next night in Fresno to purchase a cheap Walmart tent and extra tent polls for the following nights in Yosemite.

4. Yosemite National Park, California

This was definitely top 5 worthy due to its beauty, challenges, scenic stops, late night fire talks, and nummy s’mores. What stands out most to me was the 8-mile North Dome trail. Having never really hiked a trail, this was quite the challenge what I found was the journey to the desired location was quite wonderful, and I’ve always been one for the motto “it’s the journey, not the destination.” If you’ve never been to Yosemite and looking for a day-trip hike that isn’t too difficult, I recommend this hike! A helpful tip would be to carry a liter of water for every two miles walk, especially if the weather is hot. When visiting it was about 90 degrees. The nice thing about this hike, was a lot of it was shaded until the last mile, when you overlook the Half Dome. And, when you’re at your destination weather doesn’t matter… you take it all in!

3. The Big Island (Kona), Hawaii

Okay I’m going to be honest. I don’t know how Hawaii made it as a (U.S.) state, I need to read up on the history. The length of time to travel from Michigan to Hawaii, was just as much as it was to go to the Philippines and Europe. That’s a crazy thought! Now, I’ll tell you this was the first trip in my travels that challenged me in planning, because I have to: learn that there are many islands, that cost differently to get to each, and each provide different terrains and activities to do that are vastly different. Once I figured out the different islands, and considered the various costs my mom and I decided on the Big Island. Flying into Kona was certainly a memorable experience watching the plane land to rugged land, when I had always pictured luscious greens and beautiful birds. Landed, got “laid,” and took on this annual trip with my mom that was unforgettable. The Big Island provides: traditional late night luaus, beautiful volcanoes, rocky beaches, macadamia nuts, exotic flowers, fresh fruit, submarine tours with WWII ships, GORGEOUS waterfalls, and cave tours.

2. Iceland

Can you believe the idea of visiting Iceland came from a country song? Yes! “Die a Happy Man,” by Thomas Rhett. I remember hearing this beautiful song, and thinking “this guy is willing to give everything up he wants to see for a woman?” One line said, “if I never get to see the northern lights…” and I thought… one day when I meet my future man and maybe I will have to give up some moments I’ve always wanted, and before that happens I better see these Northern Lights! I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is so very true! So, needless to say, I started doing some research of cheaper places to visit in February that allowed this experience, with the symbolism of February being my birthday. And, well Iceland didn’t disappoint! And, the Northern Lights dancing along the sky was something I’ll never forget. The beautiful country provided MANY different experiences.

The southern part of the country is historic, rooted from the Viking days, and from volcanoes that changed the geography of the country. The eastern coast has beautiful and unforgettable black sand beaches and glaciers to hike. The northern region of the country is known for taking a snowmobile to the tops of glaciers, and you can’t visit Iceland without visiting the city of Reykjavik, that was quaint, quiet and walkable offering many mini shops, seafood, and iconic buildings and landmarks, and the infamous Blue Lagoon.

I definitely recommend this trip for 20-30 somethings, but as a helpful tip, be prepared to spend a lot of money on food, due to everything needed to be imported into the country. I would say the average meal was about $40 USD.

1. Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

My favorite trips have mixed in: historical symbolism, road trips, family, loved ones, and new experiences. This trip provided all of these! This was the first time for all those who had come on this trip in taking an RV across the country. I am long overdue to share some of the RV experiences, but for those considering a visit to Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota not only has a mountain with four presidents on the side of the mountain, but is home of Bear Country, the antique Drug Store (that is comparable to a mall with country antiques and fees), Crazy Horse, Falls Park, and Railroad tours that allow you to take the beautiful state all in.

This trip is for all ages! If you want to be ambitious, I challenge you take it in an RV!

Where to go next Thanksgiving?

I’d like to consider myself as a glass half-full type of gal. That said, I’ve found comfort in traveling around the holidays. Yes, there are delays, yes there are some unplanned bumps in the road, but what other time of the year do you see loved ones excited to leave to aboard a plane and tackle the challenge at the airport for companionship, love, and family?! That reason, accompanied by a week off work generally means I am spending the time on an international trip!

Below are a list of my top 3 international trip recommendations for the holidays!

3. Manila, Philippines

What better place to go than where it is 60-80 degrees during winter months, city centers are filled with Christmas decor while in flip flops, and where Santa Clause looks like he is on vacation with sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, and open-toed shoes… the Philippines! 

Those who know me, best, know that my family origins are rooted in Manila, so that in and of itself it makes the list, but something past all of that are the Filipino lanterns on nearly every neighborhood porch, Christmas lights on many whomping willow (think Pocahontas trees), and of course the traditional pig roast (nasty, but unique to see!).

2. New Zealand 

The nerd in me comes out. One of the most memorable trips was having a Thanksgiving feast at Hobbiton in New Zealand. Imagine, spending the day touring Hobbit houses, learning about the making of the Lord of the Rings film, and then capping the night off with a Thanksgiving style dinner. Book your Hobbiton Feast here!

Even if the J.R. Tolkien books are not among your favorite, the rolling hills, Milky Way across the whole skyline, and a night latern tour is worth the 20+ hour flight to make it New Zealand. 

This is definitely family friendly, and care free– the New Zealand residents are amongst the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve come across in my travels!

1. Paris, France

My most memorable Thanksgiving is hand’s down my first international trip with my mom. The backstory is that when she was younger a physic told her she wouldn’t live to be past 50. As I was growing older I began fearful of this time, being somewhat superstiscious, so before her 50th birthday I had my mom write down a list of things she wanted to do in her lifetime; for hope. So, for her 50th Thanksgiving we went to London & Paris. 

Paris is a stand-out in my mind for Thanksgiving, not only because of what her 50th birthday meant to me, but because the city was illuminated in Christmas decor throughout the city and streets. I recall many memories, but of them was walking at night up to the Arc de Triomphe, where there were hundreds of small tents with local shops, scents of s’mores and maracroons, fashionable residents, and many songs of Christmas. Walking through were rush of emotions, all positive, and the epitome of what holidays symbolized to me: family, love, happiness, and a whole lot of Christmas. 

Enjoy!

The Jiffy Factory Tour…FREE!

With me purchasing of a new home this summer meant cutting out my second international trip for fall 2017. Instead, I thought why not save some money and invest time in the beautiful state I can now say is home, Michigan. 

Not to far from Ann Arbor, MI is Chelsea, Michigan, where the Jiffy Factory is located. 

What is Jiffy? Whether you noticed it, or not, Jiffy is everywhere spanning over every US state, and in 20+ countries worldwide. Jiffy provides 11 baking products with the most popular being cornbread mix, brownie mix, and blueberry muffin mix! And the best part, each box is less than $0.75… whhhhaaatt! Peak at Jiffy Products Here!

I want to share with you a tour I went on this morning, which was a second go-around…the last time being when I was in elementary school in the 90s. 

What about this tour?

The best thing about the factory tour is that it’s FREE! The tour totals an hour that includes a 20 minute introduction video (was an easy watch, content filled, but entertaining/funny), 10 minute safety video, and a 30 minute packaging tour around the factory. The packaging tour includes seeing how each of the boxes are folded, filled with white plastic, and filled with flour/mix. Concluding the tour are gifts from the factory to your kitchen, and a recipe book!

If you’re looking to join a tour, you must make a reservation. My recommendation if you’re an adult, is to go during the first tour, 9am. This way, you don’t have to worry about lots of kids, or it being too loud, just saying.


Random Facts

  • The factory has been inherited and ran 4 generations, so far
  • It is difficult to get a job because turnover is low- my tour guide, Brenda, has been with Jiffy for 18 years and is considered a junior employee  (people with seniority have been with the company nearly 40 years…wowza!)
  • All Jiffy mix is made at the Chelsea factory, being that it’s the only factory
  • Jiffy is found in most grocery stores including: Meijer, Walmart, Aldi, etc.- most places don’t carry all Jiffy products but Jiffy encourages you to inform the store manager if you’re looking for their product that’s not in store. Most store owners want to carry Michigan made products, but don’t know the demand for which products
  • Jiffy can be found above and below eye-level in stores. To keep the prices low they don’t pay for the premium shelving space.


If you’ve ever gone I’d love for you to share your experience by commenting on this blog. If you have any questions, thoughts, or comments they can be left below too!

 

Pittsburgh in 6-Hours

Have you ever wondered if conquering a city in less than a day was possible, I’m your glimmer of hope in saying “yes you can!” For those of us who work a typical 8-5p, and use the money to adventure to cities unknown know that weekend trips can be difficult to do. Here are some highlights on how to do Pittsburg in 24-hours, and wander the streets for 6-hours of it!

Ann Arbor, Michigan> Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Driving distance (219 miles ~4 hours): 

Left at 8am, and arrived at 12pm 

Left at 6pm, and arrived at 10pm

Tolls: $20 each way (Pennsylvania requires cash only payments)

1. Saturday Farm Market

Pittsburg, like many cities, have a Saturday morning market. This included fresh fruits, asian treats, scents of pizza and pasta, and of course clothes (with ugly Steeler embroidered garments, hehe)  & knock off books (oo0o lala). If you’ve never experienced a street full of people shopping local, you don’t need to drive to Pittsburg to find one, in case you didn’t know!

If it’s timed right I like to visit various cities’ markets, because each have its unique stores that make it all the more interesting, plus it was on the way to my next recommended stop…

2. Primanti Brothers

This restaurant/bar started in Pittsburgh, and is often times what people recommend for food when going to the city. They are famous for their sandwiches that include local bread, and french fries & cole slaw in each sandwich. If you’re going to the original, located in the strip district neighborhood of Pittsburg there you’ll quickly identify it with it’s neon sign, and line out the door. With about 100 seats, that fill up fast, there is often a line; and sucks in the cold months with no heaters… but going back to recommendation number one you can get some of the Stealer gloves at the market! 

My order included the roast beef sandwich. I rate it a 3 out of 5, but it’s worth the experience if you’ve never been. 

3. Heinz History Center

This museum, in close proximity to the aforementioned recommendations, is the Heinz History Museum. The museum goes through the history of Heinz, PA Sports, Slavery Exhibit, TV shows filmed in PA, and many historical people who impacted PA throughout the years. Call me nerdy, but I find it quite interesting learning historical facts/people as the combination has created the traditions and culture we live in today. 

What I liked most of the museum were the stamps you could collect on each floor by using the stairs rather than the elevators. Surprisingly, a lot of people had interest in this, and what was most entertaining is that every few steps there would be facts related to PA history (Step #15 would list a sports person and their impact to the city), a clever way to get people involved and be healthy! Btw, if you collect all the stamps at each floor you can collect a “prize” when you leave. I will tell you the prize isn’t worth it, but the workout was good! 


4. Look for the Bridges!

It’s inevitable when going through the city not to notice the many bridges that cross over the rivers that pass through: Smithfield Street Bridge, Fort Duquesne, and Fort Pitt Bridge. Walking along the path from Heinz to these bridges were scenic and serene. Plus a great workout. 


5. Wander the streets to the PPG Place Building

What wasn’t found were any double decker buses, which I usually resort to in order to get a lay of the land before I begin aimlessly wandering. But this city is small enough to where crossing a few bridges and wandering the city was eventful enough, and guided us straight to “One PPG Place” an all glass office building that looks castle-like with peaks and tiered levels. For the holidays, if you’re going around November/December, the area surrounding the building is themed for the holidays. Even if not a holiday person, the warm, fun and chatty atmosphere is quite magical. 


Those are my top 5 picks for a 6-hour visit, proof that it’s possible and economical considering the top 5 list was done all by foot. I tell you what, my FitBit was happy!

A Gilmore Girls Weekend Q&A

Never did I think that in my 20’s I would visit the hometown inspirations of a show I used to watch as a kid. My show of choice throughout middle school & high schoool was Gilmore Girls. There was something witty and funny about watching the relationship between mother & daughter (Lorelei and Rory), while experiencing similar experience and life changes with my own mom. We could have definitely worked on our dictionary and historical references, but I will credit that to the writer of the show, which obviously my mom and I didn’t have the opportunity in hiring for our own chapters. 

About 4 months ago a former co-worker, Katie, and I, were discussing states we needed to check off of our bucket list and what better way to marry our favorite tv-show as a kid, and Connecticut. A Gilmore Girls inspired trip!

To start I will say I was somewhat disappointed in realizing the the show was filmed in a Hollywood Studio. I didn’t realize shows like this had sets built for years while the seasons unfolded. Quite remarkable when you think of it. 

Random questions people have been asking:

Q: Can you do this trip in one weekend 

A: Yes! Who would have thought the ritzy state of Connecticut could be driven in just a 3 hours from the two furthest points. This can definitely be done in a weekend, and with no rush! Katie and I even had time to visit an apple orchard, and the first half of the Michigan football game on Saturday (#GOBLUE).

Q: Did the places of inspiration truly look like the show? 

A: Some were a stretch. There was no doubt that the Independence Inn, Dragon Fly, and Gazebo were inspirations pulled from New Haven, New Milford, and Washington, Connecticut. But the others involved a little imagination and some re-watching of a few episodes.  Especially, the spot for the Kim’s Antiques, which the inspiration has been converted into a modern retail store. And with two girls with messy buns looking for Lane, did not feel welcomed; with a belt in the store costing nearly $300. 

Q: Was it easy to find affordable hotels to stay in Connecticut? 

A: I have mostly traveled alone, and so I have grown accustomed to rooming with strangers through Air B&B. On this trip Katie and I rented a room at an Air B&B in New Haven. I would recommend this location, as it is near Yale University and provides a serene unique setting. You could stay at the inspiration of the Independence Inn, or Dragon Fly, but the difference in price would be approximately $80 more a night.

Q: Were the cities bigger or smaller than you anticipated? 

The cities were quite small, with those living in them knowing our exact purpose for visiting. One store owner told us “our small town of Washington has many girls joining to find the Gilmore Girls inspiration. I don’t think some realize how small our town really is.” The towns inspiring the show of New Haven and Washington, were quite small- but quite refreshing. I mean Kirk had 30 jobs, so it’s not like Stars Hollow could have been that big. Just saying. 

If you have additional questions, please leave a comment and I will answer back!