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! 

North Dome Trail, Just Do It (Yosemite National Park)!

To anyone who has never hiked, or hasn’t hiked in a while, and is considering the North Dome Trail in Yosemite National Park…Nike it up, just do it!

Imagine: waking up even before the birds (brings the “early bird gets the worm” a whole new meaning) and getting to the trail before it is packed with tourists, families, and the whole nine. You arrive to see the start of the trail, and begin ascending into elevation one step at a time, crossing over creeks, redwood trees, deer, and darty chipmunks.


Eventually, you see signs that lead toward the trails as they split and provide varying options. After getting lost for a mile, you get back on track and the blue sky welcomes you to (1) day light, but also (2) reassurance that you’re getting close. You continue hiking up rocky terrain to cliff tops that you think eventually will drop off but never do. This is the trail’s true beauty being that it provides such a sense of mystery and curiousity that seem endless. Eventually you’re re-united with the right trail and there you see it… the iconic half dome, the staple of Yosemite National Park. 
Now, I won’t lie it wasn’t the easiest of trails to find, because as you can imagine as you’re sneaking up rocky terrain every direction looks like a trail, but it is so worth it.  We clocked our mileage when we returned to the car our hike ended up being 12-miles, just to put into perspective how far off we truly were–or could be looked as, how much more ambitious we were than the destined 8.8 mile trail. 

Yes, 8 miles sounds a lot to someone who hasn’t trained for hiking, or used to elevation, or appreciated all Yosemite has to offer, but let’s be honest… when are we truly a 100% ready for anything? When my dad made this trail suggestion at first it sounded ambitious, and a bit grueling, but as soon as Matt and I heard what the reward was (the North Dome) we couldn’t turn it down.

The trail is best accessed from Porcupine Flat, which ends up being right in the middle Tioga Road. The estimated time is 4-6 hours. If you want to make most of this experience, bring a packed lunch with you so you can appreciate the view with food! 

Northern California Itinerary (San Fran, Yosemite, & Sequoia)

Let’s be honest when you’re limited on vacation days, optimizing trips around bank holidays is essential. Well if you work in the banking industry, that is. Here’s my itinerary for the trip to Northern California! 
Day 1: (Saturday)

DTW (6am) > SFO (10am) 

Pick Up Budget Rental 

Check in to Air B&B, Park at BERT Train Station ($5.75/day)

Walk to Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco Dungeon Tour 

Madame Tussaud’s Museum 

Tik Tik Thai Food 

BART Train to Air B&B

Day 2 (Sunday): 

BART Train Station to Fisherman’s Wharf 

Purchased Big B Bus Tour Tickets 

Golden Gate Bridge

The Painted Ladies (Full House Homes) 

China City (Half a day wandering) 

Big B Bus Tour Back to Fisherman’s Wharf 

Walked Along Pier 39 

BART Train to Air B&B

Day 3 (Monday): 

Drove from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park (Approx. 5 Hours)

Attempted to Set Camp at Buckeye Flat Campground, but Forgot Poles 

Toured Giant Forest Museum to Find Food 

Went to Get Camp Food 

Slept in Car 

Day 4 (Tuesday):  

7am to German Forest Trail 

Visit the German Tree Before the Crowd 

Breakfast at Lodgepole Visitor Center

Sequoia Bus Transit to Moro Rock 

Moro Rock Hike 

Hiked from Moro Rock to Tunnel Log 

Tunnel Log and Shuttle Back to Lodgepole

Drove to Fresno (Approx. 2 Hours)

Bought a $25 tent at Walmart 

Stayed at an Air B&B

Day 5 (Wednesday): 

Visited R.E.I. 

Headed toward Yosemite National Park (Approx. 5 hours)

Entered West Side of Yosemite 

Pitched tent at Junction Campground 

Ate Dinner at Whoa Nellie Deli 

Came Back to Campground 

Day 6 (Thursday): 

7am Woke Up North Dome Trail 

Lunch at Whoa Nellie Deli 

Walked Buck Meadows to Find Deer (Found Many!)

Dinner at Whoa Nellie Deli 

Bonfire

Day 7 (Friday): 

6am Left for San Francisco 

10am San Francisco Segway Tour 

Scoma Restaurant (BEST Clam Chowder)  

Walked Pier 39 

Checked in to Air B&B in Sunnyvale (Approx. 1 Hour)

Day 8 (Saturday): 

8am Left for San Francisco 

2pm Alcatraz Tour 

Pier 39 for Corn Dogs 

Twin Peaks 

San Francisco to SFO Airport (30 mins)

SFO (11pm)> DTW (6am)